I've been a fan of Stephen Sondheim ever since first listening to the soundtrack for "Sweeney Todd". Since then I've made it my mission to seek out as many of his works as I can: including the taped productions of "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Into the Woods". Into that mix comes this 2006 production of "Company": the first of these shows I've reviewed on the blog (but likely not the last). It is an utter delight from start to finish, and for me it stands right near the top of the Sondheim pecking order.
The show is anchored by a fantastic performance from Raul Esparza as Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor whose fears of commitment are explored through a series of loosely connected scenes involving his married friends (I won't list every single supporting performer, but there's not a weak link in the entire cast). It's not complex, but the way marriage is explored in this show is novel and surprisingly deep.
Mr. Sondheim's score is one of his very best. I watched this show with no previous knowledge of any of the numbers, and was left stunned by the varied musical styles, soaring melodies (particularly on "Marry Me a Little"), and brilliantly insightful lyrics.
George Furth's book is equally impressive: full of wit, humor, and just a touch of sadness. All of it (the songs, the dialogue, the facial expressions, etc.) is delivered perfectly by this talented group. I was particularly impressed by Heather Laws (who aced a rapidly paced first act number about wedding-day jitters) and Barbara Walsh (who delivered a stellar "The Ladies Who Lunch" as well as owned every non-musical scene she appeared in).
The actors also play instruments on stage, which is interesting and impressive even if I personally don't feel it adds anything to the show. The only key area where it contributes anything important is during the concluding number "Being Alive", which opens with Esparza tentatively playing the piano before building to something cathartic and triumphant. Other than that, it's not a major plus or minus either way. I got the feeling it was designed more to let these talented actors show off, and if that's the case it works very well.
Lastly, we come to the filming style. Many of these filmed productions are content to offer one view for basically the entire performance. While I guess that accurately simulates to a degree what watching a play is like, I much preferred the way this production was filmed. The camera moves around and lingers on the actors' faces, and there are numerous close-up shots. This style might be invasive in some shows, but this one invites a certain degree of intimacy that was pulled off well here.
"Company" may not be the best musical of all-time (for me that will probably always be "Sweeney Todd"). But this production is highly impressive and top-notch in every regard. It's available on Netflix streaming as we speak, and it has my highest recommendation.
Film/Production Grade: A*
* Note: Since this is not technically a film, it will not be added to my grade-A classics.