Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stephen Sondheim's Company in concert with the NY Philharmonic

I'm 35 and married, so Company has a special place in my heart. As always with Sondheim, the lyrics are brilliant and razor sharp, and often sung machine-gun fast to a challenging score. In other words, performers: enter at your own risk.

Director Lonny Price put together a great cast. They were universally charming, and even though their vocal prowess varied, they were well matched with their songs and no one really dropped the ball. And wow, the orchestra sounded fantastic, of course. But the singer's mics were completely ridiculous. I'm not sure if the sound was optimized for recording (the show was recorded live to be screened in theaters in June), but it sounded awful in the house, like the mics were too hot. I'm pretty sure my community theater productions had better sound design. What was crushing was that many lyrics--especially in the brilliant Getting Married Today--were just incomprehensible. I know Katie Finneran killed that song, even if I couldn't exactly hear it. The technical problems with the production just didn't do the performers justice, which is sad. They--and we--really deserved much better.

Not only could I not hear the songs properly, I couldn't see at least a third of the stage from my "cheap" ($73) seat on the side in the third tier. I still have a crick in my neck. And I was so far away that I totally forgot Martha Plimpton was even in the show, though I did love her performance. I would never sit there in that theater again, or even go to a performance with singers at the Philharmonic. And that's sad, because the actors put on a charming show.

I saw the last performance, so at least they had all performed together a couple of times by then. (Really, they did a great job given a stupid "rehearsal" plan that had them all together in the same room for the first time at the first performance.) The dance numbers (such as they were) seemed smooth enough. Though, really, what WAS that bit with the girls dancing backlit behind blankets? That was one of the stupidest "dances" I've ever seen, and the show seemed to grind to a halt.

Really, the cast was lovely. I would have appreciated a bit of blase smarm mixed in with Neil Patrick Harris's Bobby. The actor seemed to be having such a great time with the show that it bled into his performance, and I didn't really believe Bobby was unhappy with his bachelor ways. His voice didn't blow me away, especially on Being Alive (remember Raul Esparza? wow), but it was generally up to the task.

I love Stephen Colbert unconditionally, but even so I thought his performance was great. He has a decent voice, but his part wasn't very vocally demanding, so it was fine, and he was hilarious and charming as ever. The same with Ducky Jon Cryer. I forgot about Craig Bierko and Martha Plimpton altogether and just assumed they were real musical theater actors, so clearly they were great. Jill Paice was suitably adorable. And Katie Finneran was excellent. I could have done with a little less Marilyn Monroe from Christina Hendricks's flight attendant. And Anika Noni Rose could have used, well, I'm not sure what, but her energy didn't quite click with the rest of the cast somehow.

No one will be surprised that Patti LuPone brought down the house. It may, however, shock you that I didn't love her in Gypsy. She's almost always too over the top for me, but she was spot on as Joanne, and her Ladies Who Lunch--a droll, almost deadpan song that requires restraint until the very end--was absolute perfection. Perfect, perfect, perfect. I cannot wait to relive that song when I rewatch the show at the movies.

I know I've been negative here, but the show was great. It was more fully staged than I expected (in many ways more so than the recent Broadway production), and technical issues aside it sounded gorgeous, and I hope the sound is better in theaters than it was live. Company is a brilliant show, and everyone should see it (either this version or the one with Raul Esparza, which streams in high def via Netflix and is available on DVD).

All in all, this was Neil Patrick Harris's show. And really, it's impossible not to love him. He's charming and aw-shucks and works so hard that you have to root for him. And even when he misses the mark, it's hard to mind because you're having such a great time. I just feel like he could have done better. Perhaps if the director had fewer logistical problems to wrangle he could have finessed the acting. As one of my show companions said, it seemed like he was working so hard to not be Barney Stinson that he ended up as Ted Mosby--and that's pretty far from Bobby, baby.

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