Friday, June 17, 2011
Company: The Movie
When you have a chance to hear the New York Philharmonic play a Stephen Sondheim score, you just go. Whatever else happens, you will hear the songs differently, more fully, willingly drown as the music washes over you, and you will not regret a note. When the Philharmonic is performing under the direction of Paul Gemignani, Poseidon himself is commanding the waves. Get wet, even if you have to occasionally hold your nose and even if the production is Company.
Company is a mess of a show. I've never particularly cared for it. Few of Sondheim's songs, brilliant as some might be, move the story along; and it's a story that needs to be moved along already. Of course, George Furth's scenes are hard to move. They're all spokes and no wheel. So, the benefits of a staging are obvious--focus on the essentials, make it an event instead of a production, and secure a cast that will blow your mind. Unfortunately, Bobby's birthday candles got a better blowing than my mind, and he couldn't even earn a wish.
This staging has a lot going for it, much to enjoy; but it isn't a satisfying feast overall. It is more of a tasting menu of marshmallows, each a delicious treat on its own but as a meal, not easy to get through, not a particularly good idea, and you won't be able to take another bite but you'll still be hungry. And, ultimately, it's all just fluff.
Now, some of that fluff is absolutely delicious. Christina Hendricks is perfection as a not-so-bright lay-over. She alone could drive a person crazy (were that she had--I've never heard that song sung worse). Usually, baby-doll voiced singing makes my ears bleed, but Hendricks not only makes a beautiful sound, she makes sense. Martha Plimpton proves again to be a reliable pinch hitter--hitting all the right notes, the right jokes, and the right balance. Katie Finneran does what she always does, no surprises, but she does it so well, you don't even care that you've seen the same performance every time she's taken the stage.
Neil Patrick Harris, as Bobby, has the difficult task of playing host and narrator for two and a half hours. He had thrilled me just three nights earlier on the Tonys--hosting, narrating, singing, entertaining, dancing, and delighting for over 3 hours. He's good at the joke, the snark, and the charm. He's less interesting playing angst, conflict, and insobriety. He sang nicely, though occasionally flat. He did everything nicely, though occasionally flat.
The women, in general, fared better than the men. Stephen Colbert deserves a really big, thanks-for-coming, participant ribbon (he shows the signs of someone who could really tear loose were he a bit more comfortable which may say more about the reheasal schedule than his abilities, and I am certainly ready to see him in whatever he attempts next); Jon Cryer did little with the little he had to do; and Aaron Lazar brought the yin of boredom to the yang of Craig Bierko's weirdom. Jim Walton was a pleasure.
In addition to the women above, Jennifer Laura Thompson stood out as a charmingly controlled wife enjoying a few uncontrolled moments. Jill Paice was an insconsistently southern belle, but she sopranoed the hell out of the thankless parts of Not Getting Married Today. Anika Noni Rose was surprisingly average. Chryssie Whitehead has very interesting feet. Patti LuPone can be amazing. I saw her sing The Ladies Who Lunch live at Sondheim's birthday celebration, right in front of Elaine Stritch. That takes balls. No problem, Patti has balls. I think they're Andrew Lloyd Webber's. It was a powerful performance. In this staging, she once again delivered a powerful performance of the song, but she lost the character, why she sings it, to whom she sings it, the death of it. And when did she start singing like Popeye? I couldn't tell if she was trying to give a blow job to a right angle or having a stroke.
The costumes were the perfect hint of the period without becoming silly. The singing set movers managed both without hiccup.
If Lonny Price, the reigning King of stagings, were directing a lab rat through a maze, history tells me they'd both get lost, which is pretty surprising for two such connoisseurs of cheese. He is a graduate of the revolving door school of directing--all entrances and exits and going round in circles. This time he's added more furniture than usual but little else. If Sondheim ever writes a musical that takes place in Raymour and Flanigan, Lonny Price should be his first call.