Full disclosure: The first musical I saw on Broadway (1970) was Stephen Sondheim’s Company. (Quite the trip – his new show, Follies, had recently opened, and we saw that, too!) I am an admitted Sondheim fan, and even if I’m not always wild about some of the later shows, I remain in awe of his ability to make the most out of the English vocabulary when he’s penning the lyrics.
So, it’s probably no surprise that my Public TV Pick of the Week is the Great Performances production of Company. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/shows/company/index.html (In most areas, Wednesday at 9 p.m.)
Two season ago, Company was revived on Broadway and won the Tony last year for Best Musical Revival. This production was taped a few months ago. It may be a bit jarring for traditional musical comedy purists – particularly those who have experienced other productions of Company – to watch this stark production, in which all the actors play instruments, forming the orchestra in-between their solos. All dressed in black and white cocktail party attire, they slip in and out of scenes unobtrusively. Performed in three-quarter, the camera work manages to capture the action far better than I might have expected. And, given the fact that this show isn’t a massive spectacle like “Phantom,” for example, the tight camera work and spare staging doesn’t really disappoint.
But that’s the technical side of the production – what I wanted to know when previewing this was if the musical I saw in 1970 would hold up 38 years later. It does.
The lyrics are still as sharp, incisive, and introspective as they were before, and while some of the scenes leading into them are a bit dated, when one thinks of the period in which it was written, it’s astounding how cutting-edge Sondheim (at a relatively young age) was. (For more on Sondheim visit http://www.sondheim.com)
In fact, for me, Company was far more relevant now than it was to a 19-year-old young woman. Back then I didn’t have any of “those good and crazy people, my married friends.” No one was married – or planned to be soon. It wasn’t a world of couples, where one felt odd about being the un-coupled one. It was a world of groups, and we were young and carefree. The “Ladies Who Lunch” were our mothers or sophisticates we didn’t know. Divorce was far from our idealistic young minds and unlike today, had touched relatively few of us directly.
Company begins at Bobby’s 35th birthday party, given for him by his unmarried friends – all of whom want him to be married too (and Bobby claims he’s ready – sort of). Yet, most of their relationships aren’t without their flaws, which Bobby observes. The question is, after seeing this – the ups and downs – what does he really want for himself?
Time changes a lot of things. I “know” all of Bobby’s friends now. Sophisticated Joanne. Sharp, critical Sarah. Kind and loving Paul, and manic Amy, who fears marriage will change her life. I know them all and I am a bit of most of them myself. Sometimes, I am even a “lady who lunches” (and enjoy every minute of it!) And, for many years as the un-coupled, like Bobby, I could connect to his quest for the right relationship. When he sings “Somebody hold me too close, somebody hurt me too deep. Somebody sit in my chair and ruin my sleep and make me aware of being alive,” I agree and can resonate with those lyrics that describe all the contradictions of relationships, including mine.
Company may not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me. And if you like Broadway musicals, Stephen Sondheim, masterful lyrics and something to think about after the set it off, you might like it, too.
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