This is a 2011 stage performance of Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy, which had a brief run in movie theaters last year and has now been issued on Blu-Ray disc from Image Entertainment. Company premiered in 1970 on Broadway with a cast album released shortly after. Since then it has had several revivals, including one previous to this production in 2006 which is also available on Blu-Ray and DVD. In 1970 a documentary film was shot by D. A. Pennebaker about the recording of the original cast album, which was issued on DVD but is now out of print. This production was shot in New York's Avery Fischer Hall, with music performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani.
Company's main character is Bobby (played by Neil Patrick Harris), a single man in New York City who is a neighbor and friend to five married couples (Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, Craig Bierko, Jill Paice, Jon Cryer, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Aaron Lazar, Katie Finneran, Jim Walton and Patti LuPone). All of them wonder if and when Bobby is going to settle down and get married himself, and Bobby contemplates this himself also. There are three women he dates casually (Chryssie Whitehead, Anika Noni Rose and Christina Hendricks) but it isn't clear if he will ever commit to one of them.
Most scenes are of Bobby hanging out with one or more of the couples, or with one of his lady friends. At one couple's apartment he gets put in the awkward situation of being offered a drink and then hearing that the husband has been trying to stop drinking. Another memorable scene is where Bobby and another couple smoke pot together.
One thing I find fun about musicals is how many of them, like Company, work musical numbers into stories that you wouldn't think would call for them, and yet they end up working very well. The songs here address Bobby's situation and relationships in general- most are catchy although there are a couple slower numbers. Nothing in the show is taken too seriously however, and here the actors and audience both seem to have an understanding that everything is in good fun. Everyone has good singing voices here, even those you might not have expected to.
The design of the production is interesting- there are hardly any sets except for some furniture that serves several functions during the show, and a few props. The orchestra is on stage directly behind the performance area, so they can be plainly seen while playing as the conductor has his back to the audience. During dialogue scenes most of the lighting is off the orchestra, and on this disc you can see some of the inactive musicians watching and enjoying the actors' performances until it's their turn to play. In some scenes, actors who do not appear in them are seen sitting to the side of the stage, but they do go off-stage at other times.
I will explain the one criticism I had about this production- at first many of the actors appeared to have large warts on their heads- some near their foreheads and others on the side of their face. After a while I figured out these were small microphones, which explained the vocals sounding clear but ended up being a bit distracting as the microphones were obviously meant to be hidden. I found myself playing "find the mic" for the rest of the actors. I'm sure the theater audience didn't notice the microphones and many home viewers may not either, but I've given my opinion of it as a perhaps overly critical viewer. One scene that is particularly awkward is where Neil Patrick Harris removes his shirt for a bit, and some wires are seen running down his back. I don't know how visible this was to the theater audience, but it's painfully obvious here.
The presentation is shot on video (1080i) at 30 frames per second. This was a relief as I dislike the look of video-based material at a more film-like frame rate (24 frames per second) which I've seen used on many recent live performance videos. (In fact, that's how the brief clip during the main menu on this disc is encoded, but the actual show is 30 frames per second.) Most of the presentation looks excellent, and reminds us of the "wow factor" of high-definition video (most TV and cable broadcasts use too much digital compression and could never look this good.) What particularly stood out to me was the clarity of the stage floor, with scuffs left from previous performances. However this was shot with several cameras simultaneously, and the quality is inconsistent. Most of the shots are from the camera directly facing the stage and those look gorgeous, but then the show will cut to a shot from a camera off to the side and you can immediately notice a loss of detail with the picture being a bit softer. I do not have any high-definition video production experience so I cannot explain the reason it looks this way, but it loses a point for this. (Note that the back cover incorrectly states a 2.35 aspect ratio; this is standard 16x9 1.78.)
Company's sound mix is great- in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (the cover indicates an additional Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but it is not actually on the disc), all voices from the actors onstage are clear and do not appear to be overdubbed later. The surrounds are used liberally which I always like to hear, especially after viewing some productions where I have to double-check that my rear speakers are actually working! Most of the applause and laughs from the audience, which seems to have been directly miked, come from the rear channels giving one the feeling of sitting there with them. They seem to be really into the show as well. The orchestra's instruments are also mixed into all channels. While I have read some criticisms that doing this for a live performance is inappropriate because being in the audience you would only hear the music coming from the front, I personally like the effect. There are also a few scenes that use recorded sound effects, like the sound of traffic in a scene taking place on a balcony, which is effective.
Optional subtitles for the dialogue and lyrics are included.
The copy I received was in an Eco-Case, basically a standard Blu-Ray case but with a large amount of plastic missing in the name of "environmental concern." Plastic "spokes" are the only thing under the area holding the disc, and the side facing the front cover has the arrow "recycle" symbol cut out. As a collector, I object to these cases as they are very flimsy and are not the type of item that most people are going to throw out or recycle anyways. On the plus side, an informative 4-page insert is included with liner notes by director Lonny Price, who explains the casting and rehearsals for this show. He reveals that the cast never had a formal rehearsal together; the first public performance was the first time they had all been in the same place at the same time!
This was my first exposure to Company and I certainly enjoyed this production; long-time fans of the show have acclaimed it as well. It seems that movie theaters were charging a premium price just to see this once, so the Blu-Ray disc is a bargain. Recommended for anyone who likes musicals!
Pictures here are publicity photos, not taken from the Blu-Ray disc.