Some thoughts after watching Sondheim’s ‘Company’ in the movie theatre

A few friends and I drove up and over to icky Rosemont yesterday to see the filmed NYPhil concert of Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton and more. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Neil Patrick Harris was very fine in the book scenes. He’s a charmer and, yet, non-threatening. I can imagine it’s pleasant to have him around to look at, drink with and practice your latest karate moves on. It’s just when he started singing that things grew problematic. Such as, his final notes in “Marry Me a Little.” “I’m ready!!” Um, I don’t you you are, girl.

  • Martha Plimpton, to me, was the strongest in the all-star cast. Too bad about her distracting wig, though. I think the costume designer may have bought that at the Spirit Halloween Supercenter in a vinyl bag labeled “Flower Power Pussycat.”

  • Anika Noni Rose looked either nervous or scared or both performing “Another Hundred People.” Her eyes were completely dead in every scene.

  • LuPone: I absolutely loved her. I thought she made bold, if a bit bizarre, choices with Joanne and sold the hell out of “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Woe to those folks in the front rows who got her drink thrown on them in the final beat. However, my friend thought she was the absolute worst part of the thing. HATED her. The quality of her actual performance probably rests somewhere in the middle.

  • Katie Finneran didn’t give the best “Getting Married Today” I’ve ever heard, but she certainly gave it her all, and I laughed. She’s a natural comedian, and her scene following the number was very good.

  • Christina Hendricks, as the ditzy airline stewardess April, was also a surprise. I’ve never watched Mad Men, so really had no idea who she was, other than Tom and Lorenzo commenting on her inability to dress her busty frame. She gave off a breathy Marilyn Monroe vibe, and her “butterfly” monologue was pitch-perfect.

  • Overall, the direction was about what I’ve come to expect from Lonny Price, after having seen nearly every Ravinia Sondheim concert he’s staged. He’s a knack for doing a lot with very little rehearsal time, and keeping the action fluid when most other directors in a concert setting would opt for “stand and sing.” That said, this concert came across a bit flat onscreen.

  • The title of this filmed concert irks me: “Stephen Sondheim’s Company.” Yes, Sondheim wrote the music, but the original idea for the piece was George Furth, who wrote the play that became the musical (learn more here). However, they have to market the thing, and Sondheim is more recognizable than George Furth. But Stephen Colbert is more recognizable than Stephen Sondheim. So maybe they should have titled it “Stephen Colbert in Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company'” Or maybe just, “Stephen Colbert Sings!” But, based on what I saw yesterday, that would be false advertising.

  • Watching a filmed concert in a movie theatre is an odd experience. You want to clap, but then feel strange because who are you clapping for? You want to read a program, but there aren’t any. People are eating popcorn around you, which at first seems rude, but then you realize you’re at the Muvico in Rosemont and next door The Green Lantern is making explosions during NPH’s introspective moments. So you turn on your iPhone and play a round of Scrabble during a boring passage. What, what? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. You don’t know.

Did you see it? What did you think?

15 thoughts on “Some thoughts after watching Sondheim’s ‘Company’ in the movie theatre

  1. Having seen the actual live performance of the show, a lot of the issues you mentioned were even apparent there. Great points all around, especially NPH’s singing. I just don’t see him being able to carry an entire musical as the male lead. His voice doesn’t have the strength for it.
    I also agree about Anika Noni Rose. She was the one that everyone was talking about, after the first night and when I saw her she totally disappointed. She was incredibly vapid and absent.
    I might as well just say ditto again, but Martha Plimpton was SUCH a surprise! She was a joy to watch and totally injected some life into the performance. I’d love to see her take on some more musical theater.
    Overall, I think the casting was a total double-edged sword for this production. You had your strong points (LuPone, Plimpton, Hendricks) and your forgettable ones (NPH, Rose, Cryer, Colbert). Sadly, it’s probably what someone behind the scenes thought was necessary in order to sell tickets and that’s sad.

    1. It’s interesting to hear that the experience was essentially the same at Avery Fisher Hall as it was at Muvico. I guess even slick editing tricks can’t compensate for lackluster performances.

  2. Do you know about the Sondheim Symphony? I just learned about it when working on Night Music. Sondheim basically wrote a symphony in the 70’s, the give parts being Company, Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Follies, and Sweeney Todd. Night Music is the waltz section. Company is the allegro section. Sweeney is the finale. (I can’t remember where the other musicals match up with the movements.) Anyway, interesting! Also explains some of the more inscrutable melodies and rhythms in his works. He’s working under a lot of structure. This kind of blew my mind when I learned about it!

      1. No, it was more the underlying structure of that list of shows. Night Music, for example, not only represents the waltz portion of the “symphony” but each form of waltz and compound metre is represented. It’s fascinating! Viennese, Polonaise, Mazurka… Incredible!

        1. oh! That’s *is* fascinating! I bet there’s hidden code in his works. Like the secret to the meaning of life written in some crazy hidden musical language. Sondheim does like his riddles after all.

          1. Hey, John –

            I think Betsy isn’t referring to that recording (which I have and love) — rather she’s referring to a way Sondheim has written his shows, that there are sections in each show that align with the movements in a symphony. Is that correct, Betsy?

          2. Yes, correct, Bob! As far as I’ve read, he always chooses to give himself a structure, and in the 70’s it was the classic four movement (plus finale) symphony as opposed to a symphonic rendition (still, that album looks grand!) As far as Company goes, you can really feel that underlying allegro drive. Almost like iambic pentameter, but musical. It *feels* like New York. That pulse. Just brill. Absolutely brill.

    1. You’re right. I do know. And I blame Colbert’s performance, as his song was the moment you checked out until end of act one.

  3. I had never seen a production of Company before, so with nothing to compare it to, I liked it. “Getting Married Today” was our overall favorite. I expected Stephen Colbert’s part to be more important, from all that he was talked about.

  4. You’ve never watched Mad Men? I highly recommend it. As for Company – one of my favorite musicals ever – if people are playing Scrabble and taking naps during it, I don’t feel so bad now about not getting to see it. Thanks!

  5. When I think of Sondheim, naturally a lot of musicals come to mind. But so does the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. How can that be?

    Sondheim is a very competent composer and a brilliant lyricist. His works are often very challenging for the performers. It would be bordering on political incorrectness to give anything but praise to Sondheim. One would have to be an idiot or a child to claim that there is actually nothing there. I am not that extreme in my judgement. All I can say is that I have struggled through quite a few of his musicals and the overpowering feeling was boredom. I leave him to the intellectual elite. When I want symphonic music I will listen to a symphony, when I want poetry I will read just that, when I want to enjoy a musical I have a world to choose from.

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