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COMPANY is the story of Bobby, a 30-something bachelor and serial dater, who is the envy of his many married friends. They throw him a birthday party every year, perpetually invite him for dinner or drinks, and routinely tell him their secrets. Bobby seems to have it all. Or does he? This 2011 stage performance was recorded in front of a live audience.
For more about Company and the Company Blu-ray release, see Company Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on November 18, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Craig Bierko, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks
Director: Lonny Price
» See full cast & crew
Company Blu-ray Review
Another Hundred People Just Got Onto the Stage
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, November 18, 2012
The Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical, Company, was a sensation when it first appeared in 1970 and has since become a landmark among American musicals. It is always being revived somewhere, and the most recent Broadway production in 2006 saw an inventive restaging, with the actors playing their own instruments, that was a testament to the show's depth and resilience. Few dramatic works have examined long-term relationships with such warmth and humor, but without a trace of phony sentiment. The fact that Company is a musical makes that achievement even more remarkable. Image Entertainment released a taping of the 2006 Broadway production on Blu-ray four and a half years ago, and anyone interested in a general overview of Company and its history should consult my review. This new version of Company was created five years later and played four performances over a single weekend at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, which is the home of the New York Philharmonic. Four performances? How many people could possibly see it? For the record, Avery Fisher Hall seats 2,738 patrons. A clue to the intentions behind this production of Company can be spotted in the directing credit: "Directed for the Stage and Screen by Lonny Price". An experienced Broadway director, Price is also known for his concert extravaganzas. Most recently, he mounted The Birthday Concert tribute for Stephen Sondheim's eightieth birthday, a project that dwarfed any Broadway production in both musical and logistical complexity (and yes, that includes the Spider-Man musical). Apparently seeking an even bigger challenge, Price conceived of a version of Company anchored by familiar faces that would allow the show to travel beyond the confines of the theater and into America's living and media rooms. (He later learned that Hal Prince, director of the show's original production, had once envisioned a TV version performed by sitcom stars.) The downside of getting famous people for a project of this nature is that they have prior commitments. In the accompanying liner notes, Price describes the inventive techniques involving "shadow casts" and iPhones that allowed him to rehearse his cast all over the country, as they finished filming seasons of TV, completed concert tours or continued the grind of taping a daily cable show. The full cast never assembled in one place until opening night. And then they went on.
A production of Company has much of its tone set by the casting of Bobby, the thirty-something bachelor around whom everyone revolves. Here, he's played by Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), whose physical grace, vocal strength and ease with light comedy are a perfect blend for the part. Where Raúl Esparza in the 2006 revival showed Bobby's inner demons from the moment he appeared on stage, Harris' Bobby is still a happy-go-lucky tourist in life, enjoying the sights and sounds of each colorful exhibition as he bounces among his married friends. Harris' gift to this production is his inexhaustible variety of reactions—amusement, befuddlement, shock, envy and many more—as the story's five couples and three attractive women (a mere sample of Bobby's amorous adventures) continue his seemingly endless safari exploring the challenges of relationships. Stephen Colbert (yes, he of The Colbert Report) and Martha Plimpton (who had just finished an extended appearance on The Good Wife) are hilarious as Harry and Sarah, the ultra-competitive couple, who couldn't live without each other to challenge over such things as dieting, giving up alcohol and karate. Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) and Broadway regular Jennifer Laura Thompson play David and Jenny, who spend a rollicking evening falling all over the floor with Bobby after smoking pot. But then Bobby is brought back to earth when David tells him privately that Jenny wasn't really having a good time; she's strait-laced but played along just to please him. (Cryer is touching and brilliant in this scene.) Craig Bierko (The Long Kiss Good Night) and Jill Paice, another Broadway regular, provide a charmingly crazy energy to their scenes as Peter and Susan, the couple with the almost-view of the East River, who are much happier together after they divorce. All of the couples form part of Company's ensemble, but two are especially important musically. Joanne, who is such a big fan of marriage that she's "done it three or four times", is currently married to Larry (Jim Walton). She delivers two of the show's most famous songs, "The Little Things You Do Together" and the signature eleven o'clock number, "The Ladies Who Lunch", which was originally written for Broadway legend Elaine Stritch and requires an equally outsize personality to bring it off with appropriate effect. Director Price recruited the incomparable Patti Lupone, who, whether you're an admirer or a detractor (she has both), is indisputably a reigning diva of the musical stage. Here, she transforms Joanne into an indomitable virago who thinks she's seen it all, until the very end, when Bobby catches her by surprise and the ice melts for a second or two. It's a commanding performance by a commanding performer. The fifth couple is the terrified bride Amy, whose jitters on the day of her wedding to Paul (Aaron Lazar) are the basis of one of Company's funniest numbers, "(Not) Getting Married Today". Amy is played by Katie Finneran, whose movie and TV work are limited but who has become one of the most sought after comediennes on Broadway. (In the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises, Finneran stole the show from both Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth—and she didn't appear until after intermission.) Amy's function in Company is to be the character who's even more afraid of marriage than Bobby. Finneran makes Amy's fear operatic and hysterical (in both senses of the word). When Bobby isn't spending time with his married friends, he's dating an endless string of women, of whom we meet three. April, the sweetly dim flight attendant, is played by Christina Hendricks, a long way from her steely Joan Harris character on Mad Men. Who knew she could sing so beautifully? Marta, the fast-talking free spirit, vibrates through the body of Tony winner Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Good Wife), who gives the clearest and sweetest rendition of "Another Hundred People" I have ever heard. Dancer Chryssie Whitehead looks appropriately innocent as home town girl, Kathy, but then bursts into expressive moves during a sensual dance number. And despite their distinct looks, these three move in perfect synchronization when they unite to warble over Bobby's shortcomings ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy"). Most musicals lose something in "concert" performances, even when the production includes costumes and rudimentary sets. Not so with Company. Furth's book was deliberately non-traditional, and the story has always been somewhat abstract: more a series of vignettes than a narrative. In both its original presentation and most revivals, Company is staged simply, with basic settings and props that can easily be rearranged into different people's apartments or cleared away to leave a generic empty space. If you compare the production that director Price mounted at Avery Fisher Hall to others, Price's doesn't look at all stripped down or simplified. Indeed, far from sacrificing anything, Price gained an array of talent that he could never have assembled for a "regular" revival (due to scheduling problems and cost, among other reasons) and an orchestra the size of which few (if any) Broadway theaters could accommodate. For one weekend, though, they managed to do a little thing together.
Company Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Blu-ray's jacket incorrectly lists the video format as 1080p and the aspect ratio as 2.35:1. In fact, the format is 1080i, as is almost always the case with Image Entertainment's releases of material captured in hi-def video, and the aspect ratio is 1.78:1. I have come to suspect that 1080i material is more susceptible to variances in playback and display equipment that 1080p, because user (and reviewer) evaluations of such material seem to be all over the map. Screenshots are an even less useful tool with 1080i than usual, because they are almost always upconverted to 1080p, which is how Blu-ray.com's screenshots are created. I can only report what I see, and the image on the AVC-encoded Blu-ray of the 2011 Company is a superior hi-def capture of a live-action event. Close-up and medium shots are sufficiently detailed that one can easily spot the seams in the stage wigs (something usually only visible to those in the first few rows) and every pattern in Tracy Christensen's character-specific costumes. Long shots are where 1080i begins to reveal its limitations, but Company holds up reasonably well, maintaining sufficient coherence on individual faces to distinguish details of performance even at a distance. Blacks are solid, and the colors are varied but impossible to characterize further, because the effective lighting designed by Kirk Bookman and Alan Adelman keeps changing the tone of everything. Keep an eye on Bobby's jacket and try to decide what color it is. It's not an accident that the hue keeps shifting, because it's the uniform of an intentional chameleon. Bookman and Adelman achieve this effect simply by changing the stage lights. It's nice to see Image making greater use of BD-50s. This one accommodates the 2:24 program with no noticeable compression errors.
Company Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Here again, the Blu-ray's jacket contains an error. The sole audio track is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. There is no DD 5.1 track, nor can I imagine why anybody would want one. The DTS lossless track is superb, although its acoustical properties bear little relationship to the visual spaces displayed on screen. The production was thoroughly miked, and the mix has obviously been crafted in the studio. (This may be just as well, given persistent controversies over the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall.) The singers remain firmly and clearly anchored to the center, except for one notable occasion, which I'll let the viewer discover, when voices of the married couples bounce through the surrounds. The 35-piece orchestra spreads luxuriously throughout the surround array, with excellent dynamic range and bass extension, allowing full appreciation of Jonathan Tunick's original arrangements. (For comparison, a 25-piece orchestra is considered large by current Broadway standards, and most are smaller.) Audience reaction has been kept relatively restrained, including the applause after musical numbers and at the end. Given the size of the house, the audience was no doubt louder than it sounds on this recording, but the disc's producers made the judgment (correctly, I think) that purchasers of the disc were not acquiring it to hear the live audience.
Company Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Other than the insert containing Price's informative liner notes, there are no extras.
Company Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In my review of the 2006 production of Company on Blu-ray, I said that the show was unlikely to be made into a movie but that, if it ever happened, the movie would be nothing like the play. Lonny Price's Philharmonic staging should remove any remaining incentive to adapt Company to the screen, because it lets you bring this musical theater masterpiece into your media room in as good a presentation as anyone is likely to create for a long time to come. If someone thinks they can do better, they'll need a damn good script, and they'll have to score casting coups with not just one but a dozen roles. Highly recommended.
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