Bumpershine.com is pleased to welcome guest correspondent and theatre guru Robert Jaimes to the fold this week for a special review of the new Blu-Ray edition of Stephen Sondheim‘s COMPANY. -ed.
COMPANY by Stephen Sondheim (2008/Blu-Ray Disc)
By Robert Jaimes
Having listened to the original Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY but never having attended a production of it, I looked forward to watching the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s 2006 Broadway revival on Blu-Ray Disc. While the production is not a complete disappointment, it fails to inspire repeat viewings. Sure, John Doyle‘s use and staging of mostly musical-instrument-toting cast members is innovative. Indeed, I welcomed the wit and sass of a three-woman brass section singing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” I appreciated the piano partnering in the powerhouse “Being Alive,” which marks the climax of Act II. And Barbara Walsh earns points for her deadpan mastery of the triangle in interpreting the role of blasé, bitter, wisecracking Joanne”” the role indelibly created by Elaine Stritch. However, Doyle’s use of this onstage orchestral conceit proved far more successful in his 2005 Broadway revival of SWEENEY TODD. Rarely did the musical instruments add momentum to Doyle’s COMPANY. Rather, I found its overall pacing slow and the frequent marching monotonous.
A production of COMPANY is only as good as the actor tackling the lead role of Bobby, the thirtysomething bachelor who surrounds himself with, and is surrounded by, those “good and crazy people [his] friends, those good and crazy people [his] married friends.” The glue holding this COMPANY together is the stellar Raul Esparza. Esparza gives an honest, nuanced, sometimes nasal but ultimately moving performance. The angst of Esparza’s Bobby builds naturally toward and is released within “Being Alive” [If the American Theatre Wing had a category “Best Single Musical Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical,” Mr. Esparza would be a Tony Award shoe-in for his raw rendition of “Being Alive”]. Other cast members who shine are Elizabeth Stanley (as April, the charming yet flighty flight attendant in “Barcelona”) and Heather Laws (as Amy, the desperate, commitment-phobe bride-to-be in “Getting Married Today”).
As for the camera work, it’s imperfect and oftentimes distracting. With a Blu-Ray Disc, picture quality is everything. In both clarity of picture and shot selection, this COMPANY fails to fully deliver. This reviewer grew frustrated experiencing almost a dozen instances of blurry images eventually, belatedly coming into focus. As for shot selection, although I found it to be generally satisfactory, bad choices sometimes undercut key moments. For example, in “Being Alive” overextended profile shots, too-extreme close-ups, and acrobatic long shots sweeping in from somewhere in the heavens above, all work against the raw vulnerability and strength grounded in Mr. Esparza’s performance.
For Sondheim savants and other such devotees, COMPANY memorialized on film is a long-overdue and welcome addition to anyone’s theatrical library. However, an overnight rental of this Blu-Ray DVD is probably plenty.
FULL CAST: Raúl Esparza, Elizabeth Stanley, Keith Buterbaugh, Matt Castle, Robert Cunningham, Kelly Jeanne Grant, Kristin Huffman, Amy Justman, Heather Laws, Leenya Rideout, Fred Rose
TECHNICAL SPECS: Color / 131 minutes
WIDESCREEN (1.78:1), Enhanced for 16×9 TVs
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Blu-Ray also in DTS HD 5.1)
Editor’s Post Script: Little known fact, long before indie music took over this blog, I probably got out to more theatre in NYC than any other form of live entertainment. But sadly, times have changed, and I haven’t been to the legitimate theatre since well, I don’t know when. The good news is though, if you’re like me, and you need the theatre to come to you, I’m giving away a free copy of the Blu-Ray edition of Sondheim’s COMPANY to a random reader who emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tells me which Stephen Sondheim musical was recently made into a Tim Burton directed film.