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A Musical Comedy

Savant Blu-ray Review

Company: A Musical Comedy
Image Entertainment
2007 / Color / 1.78:1 / 132 min. / Street Date May 20, 2008 / 29.98
Starring Raúl Esparza, Keith Buterbaugh, Matt Castle, Robert Cunningham, Angel Desai, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Kristin Huffman, Amy Justman, Heather Laws, Leenya Rideout, Fred Rose, Bruce Sabath, Elizabeth Stanley, Barbara Walsh
Editor Gary Bradley
Original Music Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Produced by Ellen Krass, Mort Swinsky
Directed by Lonny Price

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Broadway shows come and go, and few are recorded in any way that preserves them for the future. The shows fade into history as the audiences who enjoyed them pass on. More often than not, what remains of a show is its movie adaptation. Most are substantially different than the stage originals. Pal Joey, Guys and Dolls and even Bye Bye Birdie, to name just three, are quite a bit different.

Several of Stephen Sondheim's original Broadway productions are happy exceptions to this rule. Someone did the tough legal work to make possible full multi-camera videotape programs that have been shown on PBS television. Good video versions of Into The Woods, Passion, Sunday in the Park with George and Sweeney Todd are available in this form on DVD. Sondheim and George Furth's Company: A Musical Comedy, directed by John Doyle, was given a major revival in 2007. A video recording directed by Lonny Price was shown on PBS in February 2008. The major difference with Company is that it's being released on an impressive Blu-ray disc. The older presentations had the limitation of standard NTSC resolution, forcing their directors to get in close to appreciate individual performances. Even in wide shots, this HD show imparts a "you are there" feeling to the landmark musical comedy.


Robert, commonly called Bobby (Raúl Esparza) is celebrating his 35th birthday, in his mind. Joining him are his friends, the married couples that invite him over and use him as a sounding board for their problems. Sarah and Harry (Kristin Huffman & Keith Buterbaugh) argue "pleasantly" over his drinking and her interest in music and Karate; their joking combat ends up expressing repressed hostilities. Peter and Susan (Matt Castle & Amy Justman) seem happy but announce that they're getting divorced; Bobby is curious why. Jenny and David (Leenya Rideout & Fred Rose) smoke dope but seem ashamed of themselves afterwards; they're not kids any more. Paul (Robert Cunningham) wants to marry Amy (Heather Laws) but she filps out on her wedding day and tries to call it off. The final married couple is Joanne and Larry (Barbara Walsh & Bruce Sabath). She's bitterly sarcastic while he's rich and thoughtful. Bobby has adventures with three single girls Marta, Kathy and April (Angel Desai, Kelly Jeanne Grant & Elizabeth Stanley) but the other wives make it their business to be critical of his choices. He feels he should be partnered in marriage but doesn't know if he has the strength to commit.

Company is known as the first 'concept' musical in that its non-linear story expresses the leading character's psychological state, through a series of minimalist vignettes on an abstract stage. The only through-line is Robert's journey through states of confusion. It's clearly an autobiographical piece for Stephen Sondheim, who gives both the music and lyrics his unique stamp. The melodies tend to be unpredictable and inner-directed, while the lyrics are some of the wittiest ever. The show premiered in 1970 when relationship dramas weren't all that common; Company predates the classification of people into Yuppies and have-nots, and celebrates ordinary people reassessing their inner states. These neurotics want the security of loving partners, but they also want to be "free".

The 2007 revival taped for this DVD shows how Company has changed from its original production, Which began with Dean Jones but quickly switched to Larry Kert. A song called Tick Tock for the Kathy character was dropped from the show because it involved dancing and had been specifically skewed in that direction for Donna McKechnie. Earlier versions presented Robert and his friends as more middle class, as opposed to the mostly well-off Manhattanites seen here. Some of these people spend nightclub evenings on the town and come home to terrace apartments. Except for Robert's girlfriends, most seem to be well off.

Director John Doyle has added a personal touch that truly adds to the shows effect, and must have made casting all the more difficult. Each of the actors is also a musician and plays the film's score while performing -- in character. The audio and staging issues on this show must have been tough to iron out.

George Furth's book gives us Robert, a fairly mellow guy in need, like an incomplete molecule ready to bind with another party. His friends sense this and offer wanted and unwanted advice. Some of the husbands envy Bobby, others think he should stay single and one even comes on to him. The wives think Bobby's the perfect interesting evening guest. Some fantasize being his lover when they feel dissatisfied and others use him to psychologically punish their husbands. All in all, Company sees plenty of maladjustment and cynicism in these people, enough to give Robert a severe case of relationship-itis. Joanne is openly hostile and contemptuous of those around her, even Robert, yet she's accepted as a good friend.

Robert's girlfriends are a fun trio, any one of which he might be happy with. Marta is spirited, aggressive and mischievous. She feels energized by New York and is outspoken of her love for it: Another Hundred People. April is a flight attendant and considers herself not as bright as other people; she and Robert spend a night together. In the morning Robert begs April to stay, knowing she has a flight to catch. To his horror, she does decide to stay. In a song called You Could Drive a Person Crazy, the third girlfriend Cathy joins the others to to criticize Robert's inability to commit. Kathy seems like the perfect match, until she says she's leaving the city to go home and get married.

Other strong, very Sondheim songs are Joanne's The Ladies Who Lunch and Robert's final statement of hope, Being Alive. But the most impressive performance is Amy's Getting Married Today, an incredibly fast patter song. We want to applaud this production's Heather Laws, for singing that difficult tune so well while expressing such nervous vulnerability.

Lonny Price directed this video "extraction" of the stage play by taping two performances. He seems to have innumerable HD cameras running. Every moment is caught and highlighted without chopping the ensemble atmosphere up into pieces. The HD really helps in that the camera can be fairly wide and still record the actors' full expressions.

Image's DVD of WNET 13's Blu-ray of Company: A Musical Comedy is a dazzler, with a crisp picture and pure-sounding audio. For those of us who cannot get to New York to attend these shows, this kind of recording is invaluable.

Extras on the DVD are an interview with Stephen Sondheim in front of an audience, where he's in a good mood and seems eager to please. Also covered in interviews are star Raúl Esparza and English director John Doyle. Doyle's style of having actors double as musicians, by the way, is called "actor/muso".

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Company: A Musical Comedy Blu-ray rates:
Show: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Inteviews with Stephen Sondheim, Raúl Esparza and John Doyle
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 4, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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