Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A 'Company' Movie Review: Good and Crazy People

(image: Screenvision)
The company of 'Company' (images: *Chris Lee/NY Philharmonic)
(image: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
The experiment continues with Stephen Sondheim's 'Company' as more stage productions are filmed and screened at movie theatres nationally. Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") leads the star-studded stage cast which includes Patti Lupone, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer ("Two and a Half Men), Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men"), Craig Bierko and Martha Plimptom ("Raising Hope").

This new production of the 1970 musical revolves around Bobby (Harris), a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage, five married couples who are his best friends and his three girlfriends. It's a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular order, linked by a celebration for Bobby's 35th birthday. Rounding out the cast are Katie Finneran, Aaron Lazar, Jill Paice, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Jim Walton and Chryssie Whitehead. The film was captured live in April 2011 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City and features the New York Philharmonic.

Patti Lupone*
Martha Plimpton, Stephen Colbert & Neil Patrick Harris*
It appears the publicity of a featured performance by the cast on this year's Tony Awards, movie posters and trailers in addition to the starry television and stage cast paid off. A full house viewed the first of four scheduled screenings of the production at the sole theatre in Honolulu presenting the film. With the four live performances in NYC sold out, Screenvision (which is presenting the film nationally) saw the potential for a niche audience to see a filmed production not just in the Big Apple but also across the country.

None of the actors, some of whom are not known for their singing, embarrass themselves. Though experts and Sondheim fans will likely pick over every minute detail and compare these performances to the original Broadway production or recent revival, this production stands on its own. Using the comic talents of the cast, director Lonny Price has paid attention to the storytelling as much as to the songs themselves. Rather than the production becoming just a staged concert, Price with choreographer Josh Rhodes gives the production movement via the use of couches on wheels.

Aaron Lazar & Katie Finneran*
Anika Noni Rose & Neil Patrick Harris*
Lacking a definitive dramatic storyline the cast keeps the show buoyant even in the lesser known musical numbers. The biggest applause was for Patti Lupone's performance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" which is tuneful, classy and sardonic. She makes the number listenable rather than resorting to the screeching that has become characteristic of other renditions. Her bigger than life stage presence even carries onto film as her costars fade slightly into the background in her few scenes. Few would say that the delivery of "Being Alive" by Harris is far from definitive but many would be surprised that he has the vocal heft to bring the number to a shattering climax. His likable persona makes his journey one the audience is willing to follow.

Plimpton and Colbert as one of Bobby's married friends makes the most of a comedy element as a karate-fighting couple. Hendricks is a real surprise nailing down the comedy as Bobby's Pam Am flight attendant girlfriend. Anika Noni Rose as Marta, another of Bobby's girls, has the difficult task in making "Another Hundred People" her own. If her delivery of the song is restrained it is still melodic and she makes every word clear.

Neil Patrick Harris and Christina Hendricks (image: AP)
Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Cryer & Jennifer Laura Thompson
(image: **Walter McBride/Retna Ltd)
Cryer and Thompson with Harris have fun as the couple "stoned" on the reality of marriage. One of the most challenging numbers is "Getting Married Today". It is one of the most funny, word-a-multi-second songs ever written. Even with the limited rehearsal Finneran nails most of the song's comedic punch lines. Other highlights include "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" by Bobby's three girlfriends and the Act 1 closing number performed by the entire cast as a kick-line complete with straw hats.

Chryssie Whitehead, Christina Hendricks &
Anika Noni Rose**
This concert production neatly presents number after number as Bobby examines the multiple relationships around him and in the end examining himself and the choices he has made. It's a worthy production for fans of musical theatre and those fans being initiated into experiencing a Sondheim musical for the fist time. See the next post for a video sample of the show.

The original Broadway production was nominated for 14 Tonys winning Best Musical, Book, Score, Lyrics, Set Design and Direction.  A 1995 revival played a limited run at the Roundabout Theatre. More recently a 2006 Tony-winning revival starred Tony-nominated Raul Esparza as Bobby. This last production where the actors also played the instruments was filmed for Great Performances on PBS and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

'Company' was screened at the Kahala Theatre in Honolulu, Hawaii on June 15th at 7:30pm with tickets priced at $18. Additional screenings of 'Company' on June 16, 19 and 21 at select movie theatres nationwide. Advance tickets available at participating theatre box offices and their online ticketing service. Check local listings for exact show times. No announcement has been made if this production will be released on CD or DVD/Blu-ray. More production photos below.
Christina Hendricks* 
Christina Hendricks & Neil Patrick Harris* 
Neil Patrick Harris, center (image: Dario Cantatore/Gerry Images)
Christina Hendricks, Anika Noni Rose, &
Chryssie Whitehead** 
Neil Patrick Harris & Jon Cryer**
Jon Cryer**
Neil Patrick Harris**
Neil Patrick Harris & Craig Bierko**
Neil Patrick Harris, Aaron Lazar &
Katie Finneran**


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