Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth
Lincoln Center
Various cinemas

Sondheim's Company

As a general rule, watching live performance is an unbeatable experience. However, this sumptuous, filmed version of a star-studded concert performance has much to commend.

It helps that Company does not benefit from elaborate staging so that having a cast of actors playing in a limited space, in front of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Paul Gemignani, seems natural and does not detract from the storytelling element.

For most Brits, the chance to see this concert at the Avery Fisher Hall, part of the Lincoln Center complex, would be impossible anyway.

The big advantage of having the aid of a camera is that you can see the performers close up and personal, which is exactly what Stephen Sondheim's musical is all about. These days, the picture and sound quality in cinemas are both exceptional so that you can almost believe that you are on the stage with the actors, staring right into their eyes.

Company follows the fortunes of Bobby, played by Neil Patrick Harris, as he and fifteen good friends contemplate his life and their own on the occasion of his 35th birthday.

What they observe and anatomise for around 2½ hours is love and marriage in every variety but also New York City, the “City of Strangers” as defined by the show's stand-out song "Another Hundred People". The song is delivered with great power by Anika Noni Rose as the soul of New York Marta, one of Bobby's trio of girlfriends.

While the main focus inevitably rests on the man known by every variation on his given name, it also shows us sophisticated New Yorkers going through stressful marital experiences.

This includes everything from marriage to divorce, love, companionship and potential adulterous entertainment.

George Furth's book and Sondheim's lyrics are sharp and have dated not one iota. Together, they build to a subtly intelligent exploration of their subject.

This is then enhanced by a series of Sondheim music in a range of styles led by the edgy favourites that excite like "Getting Married Today", delivered with gusto by Katie Finneran. On a more bittersweet note there are also songs such as "The Ladies Who Lunch", given great empathy by Patti Lupone as Joanne, a role played by Elaine Stritch in Hal Prince's original production back in 1970.

There are some good ensemble songs too, especially "Side by Side by Side" and the oft-repeated riffs of title song "Company".

While Neil Patrick Harris is the star bringing the evening to a crescendo with "Being Alive", it is generally the women who get the best songs and lines with the likes of Jill Paice, Martha Plimpton making their marks, while amongst the men Jon Cryer, Craig Bierko and Aaron Lazar mix wit and song under the direction of Lonny Price.

This lovely film is being shown at around more than 150 cinemas up and down the country at 7pm on 15 March. Don’t miss out. The details are available on the more2screen web site.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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