Saturday, June 18, 2011

Stephen Sondheim's "COMPANY" Starring Neil Patrick Harris - in (Movie) Theatres!

Who wants to see HIMYM's Barney in a musical? 

First, thank you my friend and "Broadway geek" Jenna (from such adventures as The Book of Mormon) who introduced me to this show by handing me the PBS Great Performances DVD of the 2006 production of Stephen Sondheim's Company at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway.  The production was directed and choreographed by John Doyle, who is most popular for his work on the recent stage revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, having the actors themselves play instruments and provide the orchestral arrangements.  Such was the case for this 2006 production, starring Raúl Esparza as Bobby, the central character, playing piano and percussion.  Such is not the case for this particular production starring Neil Patrick Harris in the same role, but the character itself and the relationships he forms are not too far off from the charms and charisma of Barney in How I Met Your Mother.  He's a great choice, and I can't wait to see this production taped live on Broadway for movie theatres!

Company is a "concept musical" composed of short skits focusing around Bobby, a bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday, a close circle of friends consisting of five married couples and his three, um, 'lady friends'.  Although there is no conscious plot in the musical, it marks one of the first to deal with adult problems of the time through its content.  Dealing with societal and personal issues that are very real to the audience, that make deeper connections than they would like to admit when walking out the theatre, can become powerful statements in art.  Bobby is doted on by his married friends to find him a girl and settle down, yet he is witness to intimate moments in his friends' lives that question the happiness of the institution of marriage, along with his own fear of commitment.  Bobby acts as a proxy of sorts in regards to the collective fears of the audience in their own personal lives, blatantly asking of his friends some piece of wisdom to find true companionship beyond the complication.  Each vignette magnifies something specific and familiar, but unique to Bobby and his circle of friends as they are confronted with questioned fidelity, fear of abandonment, sexual confusion and mid-life identity crises ... these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this colourful 'company'.

Sondheim addresses how he turned the art of distraction around on the audience he portrays in his musical.
"Company does deal with upper middle-class people with upper middle-class problems. Broadway theater has been for many years supported by those people. They really want to escape, and here we're saying we'll bring it right back in their faces ... what they came to a musical to avoid, they suddenly find facing them on the stage."
I'm really excited to see NPH's portrayal of Bobby, a character that gets more complex throughout the show, and an excellent role to add to his repertoire.  Not to be outdone, he's featured with an all-star cast with the likes of Stephen Colbert, John Cryer, Christina Hendricks, Martha Plimpton, Patti LuPone and more outstanding talent that will make for fantastic theatre.  Sondheim's artistic mark in Company is a revolutionary step, using the Broadway musical format as a direct criticism and depiction of society.  It'll be one of your favourites, too, it's so scything yet sweet at times.  

My most anticipated moment for this show: Patti LuPone performing "Ladies Who Lunch" - in full character.  Patti will play Joanne, a cynical 'upper crust' society woman with contempt for happiness and rather happy to wash it away with a good cocktail.  "Ladies Who Lunch" is a torch song for Joanne as she criticizes the well-to-do women who have nothing better to do with their time than "lounging in their caftans and planning a brunch / on their own behalf", only to find at the end she just may be the worst of them all, judging while she has nothing better to show.  Check out Patti Lupone's performance on a television special celebrating Stephen Sondheim's 80th Birthday Celebration.  (Easter egg!  The woman to stage left - your right looking at the video - is Elaine Stritch, the woman who originated the role of Joanne in 1970 in its first Broadway production!)

Check out my Tonys 2011: Best Musical Moments for a performance by the entire cast - yes, Stephen Colbert, too!  Limited runs have started June 15th - check your local movie theatres!

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