thu 21/10/2021

Sondheim's Company crosses the pond to a cinema near you | reviews, news & interviews

Sondheim's Company crosses the pond to a cinema near you

Sondheim's Company crosses the pond to a cinema near you

The musical comes to the screen in all its New York splendour for one night only

Two-time Tony-winner Patti LuPone, seated front and centre and surrounded by the cast of Company

Phone rings, door chimes, in comes Company, this time sporting surround sound and high definition and at a cinema near you. Tonight marks a rare opportunity to see a New York gala - the sort of event that proliferates in Manhattan even as the actual volume of Broadway openings decreases - with an assemblage of names that you could never get to commit for an extended run. All that and Broadway diva Patti LuPone at her most pungently acerbic?

Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical has rarely looked or sounded so good as in this showing in UK cinemas of a banner musical theatre event from over the ocean last spring.

This is the Sondheim/George Furth collaboration about bachelorhood, New York-style, set at the 35th birthday of the perpetually unmarried Bobby who lives surrounded by couples but can't or won't bring himself to commit. Rarely absent from view for long in the UK (it was revived in December in Sheffield, with Daniel Evans, and performed twice-over in a Shaftesbury Avenue concert headed by Adrian Lester in October 2010), the piece nonetheless benefits from being heard by denizens of the metropolis where its essentially plotless scenario takes place, the intensity magnified by celluloid so as to cut to the very core of Neil Patrick Harris's emotionally blocked Bobby. When Harris lets rip at the finish with the show's climactic "Being Alive", a potentially overfamiliar Sondheim anthem is minted anew courtesy of this performer's distinctly metrosexual elan.

The concert in fact took place over four nights at New York's Avery Fisher Hall last April, longtime Sondheim interpreter Paul Gemignani on hand to conduct the New York Philharmonic. And while audiences in situ cheered Broadway notables like Katie Finneran, Anika Noni Rose and Jim Walton, spectators this side of the pond may quite understandably adopt a starrier gaze. Can Mad Men's Christina Hendricks sing? Well enough, and what's more she brings a sly, wry wit to the role of the stewardess April, just one of Bobby's conquests crowding the gathering phantasmagoria in his mind.

LuPone, in turn, hasn't played the West End since she flamed out in the London premiere of Master Class, 15 years before Tyne Daly's current go-round in the same part (Maria Callas). Cast as the Pinter and Mahler-minded Joanne, the role famously originated by Elaine Stritch, a black-clad LuPone prowls the stage evincing the sort of brio and bite that are synonymous with Broadway. "Everybody rise," Joanne snarls at the end of her 11 o'clock number, in what is at once an exhortation and a cry for help. And the New York theatre being what it is, rise at the end of Company they do - and rightly so. See for yourselves. 

Christina Hendricks brings a sly, wry wit to the role of the stewardess who is one of Bobby's conquests

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I went to New York last April to see this live, and tonight was overjoyed to live the experience once more in the cinema. Company is one of my all time favourite shows and no-one, in my opinion, could be more perfectly cast in the role of Bobby than Neil Patrick Harris. He brought a depth to the role that I've never seen before. Also great was Christina Hendricks and of course the wonderful Patti LuPone. Such a shame that the cinema was half empty - possibly due to insufficient publicity, but more likely due to the fact that I live in a cultural desert (at least where Sondheim's concerned) - Leicester.

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