Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Star-studded live production of Company comes to the big screen

STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S COMPANY book and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth, with Neil Patrick Harris, Craig Bierko, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Christina Hendricks, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton, Anika Noni Rose and others. Screens Wednesday (June 15) at various Cineplex theatres. See listing. Rating: NNNN

If you can’t get enough of Neil Patrick Harris’s opening, middle and closing numbers as host of Sunday’s Tony Awards, you’ve got some major Company to look forward to.

Tonight (June 15, 7 pm), with an encore presentation on July 9, select movie theatres are screening last spring’s star-filled production of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company, in which NPH plays the central role of Bobby.

I was lucky enough to see one of the four live performances at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, and can tell you that Harris and the production are superb. Bobby is a difficult part, not just vocally but dramatically. He’s a 35-year-old bachelor with commitment issues whose married friends keep trying to convince him to get married – even though they’re all having problems themselves, like Harry (Stephen Colbert) and Sarah (Martha Plimpton), whose competitiveness comes out in a martial arts demonstration, or Joanne (Patti LuPone) and Larry (Jim Walton), who take the edge off their fears with alcohol and extramarital affairs.

Harris’s boy-next-door charm and sitcom timing help his Bobby fit into all of the scenes, ably playing the best man at a friend’s wedding or walking around Central Park with one of the single women he’s dating. In one memorable section where he’s trying to seduce the dim flight attendant April (played by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks), Harris even brings out some of his How I Met Your Mother character’s sleaze, which adds another dimension to the role.

His sweet, almost boyish tenor gives the impression of a man who hasn’t completely grown up. If he doesn’t have the vocal range and power of Raul Esparza, who played the role in the last Broadway revival of the show, he makes up for it in acting, particularly in Bobby’s ode to ambivalence in relationships, Marry Me A Little. Harris brings out the human contradictions and vulnerability in every line.

The rest of the cast is similarly impressive. Actors like Colbert, Hendricks and Jon Cryer (from Two And A Half Men) aren’t known for their singing, but they handle the dramatic moments well. This should work beautifully onscreen, where close-ups will be able to capture every nuance of emotion and subtext.

At the performance I saw, Katie Finnernan brought a terrific conversational quality to one of the musical’s showstoppers, Not Getting Married Today, an adrenaline-pumped tongue-twister about a bride with cold feet, but she flubbed a few lines. I’m curious to see how it plays out onscreen. Similarly, Anika Noni Rose was – as American Idol’s Randy Jackson might say – a little pitchy during her big number Another Hundred People, about the anonymity of a big city, but she brought great warmth and fun to her scene with Harris.

LuPone gets to sing the show’s most popular number, The Ladies Who Lunch, an acid-filled look at wealthy women filling up their hours. It’s a great piece of social satire that becomes bitter at the end when the character recognizes the emptiness in her own life. At the performance I saw, LuPone relied on her usual mannerisms – I can only describe it as vocal thrusting – but quietened down in the second half. I’m curious to see whether she splashes the front row with her cocktail, as she did in performance.

Lonny Price’s direction helps immensely in making the production work. Tracy Christensen’s period costumes help establish the 70s without overdoing it, while James Noone’s simple set consists of several modular benches, which are ingeniously reassembled throughout to suggest multiple locations. The group numbers are beautifully choreographed by Josh Rhodes, with the ensemble manipulating the furniture at times like a crazy carousel.

A big plus is having frequent Sondheim collaborator Paul Gemignani conduct the New York Philharmonic, who bring a lot more richness and texture to the score than previous productions.

If you can’t make the screening tonight or in July, don’t worry. Sondheim lovers are fanatical and devoted, so it’ll likely be released on DVD in a month or two. I’d love to see some extras about the compressed rehearsal time and backstage antics.

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