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Review: Some Entertaining ‘Company’ on PBS Great Performances

Great Performances CompanyAh yes, phone rings, door chimes, in comes Company ! Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s landmark 1970 musical has been performed in so many ways – including a 2008 Great Performances broadcast of the chamber-style 2006 Broadway revival starring Raúl Esparza as Robert – that the contours of this concept musical have sometimes been obscured by the, well, concept of the people mounting the production. There’s no fear of that, however, with the back-to-basics April 2011 concert staging of the show that airs today in Nashville at 8 p.m. on NPT (available over-the-air on 8.1, on Comcast Channel 1008 and Charter Cable channel 708) as part of the PBS ARTS FALL FESTIVAL, which, to quote the good folks at PBS, “highlights artists and performances from around the country and invites every American into the worlds of music, theater, opera and cultural history.”

The New York Philharmonic’s presentation on the Avery Fisher Hall stage at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has a top-flight cast that includes (in alphabetical order) Craig Bierko (as Peter), Stephen Colbert (as Harry), Jon Cryer (as David), Katie Finneran (as Amy), Neil Patrick Harris (as Robert), Christina Hendricks (as April), Adam Lazar (as Paul), Patti LuPone (as Joanne), Jill Paice (as Susan), Martha Plimpton (as Sarah), Anika Noni Rose (as Marta), Jennifer Laura Thompson (as Jenny), Jim Walton (as Larry), and Chryssie Whitehead (as Kathy). No less importantly it has Sondheim specialist Paul Gemignani conducting Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations arranged for a sublime 35-piece orchestra; director Lonny Price, who also helmed “SONDHEIM! The Birthday Concert on Great Performances; and highly-acclaimed Josh Rhodes as choreographer.

This Company – which is now a period piece given much of its book and lyrics, though that might be less the case with a proposed reworking to make Bobby gay – is set in NYC at the time of the show’s premiere. Couches on wheels that double as lecterns cleverly allow the performers to organize themselves in various formations for each number. There are some nice ensemble moments (Finneran, Cryer and their compatriots all handle their parts well), particularly in the titular opening song (see the first clip below) and “Side by Side by Side”; Rose’s rendition of “Another Hundred People” is quite good too. Harris’ earnest vocals on such songs as “Marry Me a Little,” “Barcelona” (with an able assist from “Mad Men” cast member Hendricks) and “Being Alive” are pleasant, though the latter song deserves a palpable note of fear that’s missing from his delivery. How’s LuPone’s take on “The Ladies Who Lunch”?  C’mon, it’s LuPone; her dark brooding rendition is this revival’s best moment.

The press and public in New York wondered how TV satirist Colbert would fare; the Northwestern University theater grad is just fine, and his pairing with Plimpton (who has a long list of theater credits in addition to her on-camera performances) makes the martial-arts-couple-showdown in “The Little Things You Do Together” very funny (see the second clip below).

This televised production is an entertaining romp through a Sondheim classic, and for Nashvillians it will hopefully whet the appetite for Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s upcoming live show. So, my advice is to sit back, flip on the TV and invite some Company into your home tonight.

Great Performances, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET. Visit Great Performances Online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information about this and other programs. Company is intended for mature audiences.

 

 

*Photo by Chris Lee courtesy WNET and PBS.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).