So I go to see Company in the cinema, with an amazing cast with the NY philharmonic yesterday. If you don't know, it is one of Sondheim's glittering musicals full of dazzling songs and rapier wit. It revolves around Robert, a perennially single man, and 5 married couples who are his close friends. Robert basically is a self absorbed man who is not married because, well, he is not ready to be that emotionally close and vulnerable with someone.
Now, before we go any further, this was true luxury casting. Neil Patrick Harris proving once again, that he is slumming it on TV. Im sorry, but he is. He really works so much better in live theatre. As Robert, he brings the slightly sleazy charm needed to make the role believable, and of course he can sing (Oh man he can sing!!!) He is the heart and soul this show revolves around, and it work brilliantly. His singing of "Being Alive" at the end of the show left me feeling raw and emotional. in a good way.
Stephen Colbert (!) played one of the married couples, the one who had a drinking problem. He was, as expected, hilarious, but also believable. He was not playing the Colbert Show character at all, but was rather immersed in a genuine character. His interaction with his wife with the karate was also hilarious.
Another TV surprise was Jon Cryer as another of the husbands. He played someone a bit of a drip like his 2.5 men character, but someone you actually wanted to like. He more just seemed like someone caught living a life he wanted, but it isn't what he expected.
As the kooky girlfriend we had everyone's favourite curvy secretary Christina Hendricks. Yes, she can sing too. To be sure, her big number, a duet with Robert, called Barcelona, is not a big challenge to a singer, but she was able to perform it convincingly, in character, and with humour. Really, you could not ask for much more. She was able to keep her character just the lifelike side of caricature, positively revelling in her kookiness.
Then, there is Patti Lupone as Joanne. Yes, Patti Lupone, getting to sing one of the icon songs of Sondheim, probably the one that people forever link to Sondheim and New York, "Here's to the ladies who lunch" This comes in a scene in a bar, where she and her husband have taken Robert and they all have tied one on. To be blunt, she is more than a little under the weather before she proposes the toast that is the song. No one is going to sing this like La Lupone, I frankly think i have now seen the definitive version of it. She just lets rip with that glorious big voice, while still using it to portray the bitterness, the jadeness, the ennui behind the song.
And then there was Anika Noni Rose, who as well as being another of Robert's women gets to sing the hellish "Another hundred people" - if you do not know the song, it is like singing one of the G&S patter songs, constantly spitting out words while making it musical at the same time. To be able to do that in itself is a skill, but being Sondheim, you also have to remain in character and reveal your inner thoughts at the same time. She did it, and how.
Now, I could go on about the other performers, like the truly demented bride to be, or the southern belle who has divorced her husband but still lives together with him, but really, why? They were all brilliantly cast and all just right for their roles. these were people who knew their roles and sang them well, inhabiting them convincingly.
But ultimately, this show stands or falls on two things, whether we care about Robert, and whether the finely written vignettes of couples and their flaws, come across as contrived or real. This production succeeds on both counts. Robert played by Neil Patrick Harris is the sort of person you want to know, which enables the whole set up to work. And allows for the conclusion to work. We want Robert to find "someone to hold me too close" to make him feel he is alive. The fact that we don't know if he does, is beside the point, we know he is ready to now.