Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stephen Sondheim’s Company Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Set firmly in, and often about, New York, Company follows five married, once married, or soon to be married couples and their mutual friend, Robert, a 35 year old bachelor who has been unable to connect in a long-term relationship. The relationships are presented in a series of vignettes, primarily through Bobby’s eyes, so that we see the less than ideal aspects of commitment. However, it is obvious to the audience that the committed are happy. Eventually, Bobby learns that while relationships aren’t perfect, they are a necessary part of “Being Alive.”

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

In 1970, Stephen Sondheim debuted a new play on Broadway that he was determined to be different as it would be a musical that would deal with adult themes and relationships.  He based Company on a book by George Furth that told the tale of a young single man named Bobby who seems to be destined to be a permanent bachelor despite being surrounded by his best friends who are all married with varying degrees of happiness and success.  The play was a hit and the original production was nominated for a record setting fourteen Tony Awards and won six of them.
After many revivals, director Lonny Price unveiled a new staged version of the play at the New York Philharmonic with Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby, Stephen Colbert as Harry, Craig Bierko as Peter, Jon Cryer as David, Katie Finneran as Amy, Christina Hendricks as April, Aaron Lazar as Paul, Jill Paice as Susan, Martha Plimpton as Sarah, Anika Noni Rose as Marta, Jennifer Laura Thompson as Jenny, Jim Walton as Larry,Chryssie Whitehead as Kathy, and Patti LuPone as Joanne. The 35 piece orchestra was conducted by Paul Gemignani and used the original Broadway production’s orchestrations. This Blu-ray contains the filmed performance from one of those live shows which was shown in theaters before arriving on this Blu-ray for all of those people who missed it.
The story focuses on the perennially single Bobby who is juggling three girlfriends while doing his best to avoid any form of commitment.  The play jumps around in time so the different vignettes don’t follow any certain kind of chronological order which I wasn’t really a fan of.  I don’t mind non-linear plot-lines (I love Pulp Fiction), but this play doesn’t make much of an effort to ties the different scenes together.  The play’s central link between the scenes is Bobby’s birthday, a day that he wants nothing to do with.  His friends insist on throwing him a surprise party even though they know he hates the whole idea.  As the play goes on, Bobby interacts with each of the couples and sees the good and bad parts of their marriages. By the end of the play, Bobby’s world view has shifted and things seem to be on the precipice of change.
Having never seen this play before, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did with this cast that was assembled for this performance.  All of them do a great job, with Neil Patrick Harris leading the way with confidence and charm.  I also thought the funniest part of the show was when Bobby witnesses the love/hate banter between Robert (Stephen Colbert) and Sarah (Martha Plimpton).  The two go after each other’s vices and it ends with Bobby instigating Sarah into showing a skeptical Robert her new karate skills on him.  The show also offers a chance to see Patti Lupone singing one of her signature songs, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” which was cool to see in the entire context of the play. Another well known song in this play is “Being Alive” which I never knew came from this play.  A lot of times, when a play is filmed it loses something from the transfer, but this one was filmed well with a lot of coverage that keeps it from feeling static.  If you are a fan of this play, then you should check this out just to see how this cast pulls off their roles.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This is presented in 1080i high definition and has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  This transfer has a nice detailed picture that offers good contrast and consistent flesh-tones.  The various colors are well-defined and the black levels are suitable inky as well. A lot of times, when plays are filmed they usually look pretty bad as it’s hard to capture the action on the stage appropriately and even if they do, it usually looks pretty rough with a lot of noise and other issues.  I’m happy to report that that’s not the case here, as there’s a lot of nice coverage that’s extensive enough that you might feels as if you were there.  Long distance shots aren’t as sharp as the close up and medium ones, but those are few and far between.  I was a little concerned about whether or not the almost two and a half hour show would suffer from some compression issues as it’s all on one BD-50 disc but those fears were unfounded.  This is one of the better stage to film productions I’ve seen.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

Company’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track has some highs and lows as it sounds pretty good as long as there aren’t too many people talking or singing at the same time.  The vocals are clear and have a nice dynamic range and the orchestra sounds fantastic and the sound of  the audience clapping has been smartly limited to prevent it from overshadowing the play.  The sub-woofer isn’t used all that much as well and the whole mix is very front channel heavy. Overall, this is a pretty good mix but it could have been better.

Extras (1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Other than the liner notes included in the case, there are no extras included.

Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

I don’t think Company is one of Sondheim’s better plays, but it has a couple of good songs and this production has some great actors in it.  The Blu-ray offers some solid video quality while the audio is acceptable but could have been better. Some extras would have been nice too as they could have at least included some rehearsal footage or some interviews with the cast.  If you are a fan of Sondheim or this cast, then you will most likely enjoy this Blu-ray.
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