Our yearly Tony Awards Clip Countdown continues on in 2012 as we quickly approach the night all Broadway babies have been waiting for - the Tony Awards on June 10 at 8 PM on CBS - and today we are paying tribute to a concept musical that changed the game and heralded the arrival of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince as the true theatrical titans of the 1970s (along with Michael Bennett in a choreography capacity) - COMPANY.
From its very structure and style on out, COMPANY is and was an anomaly in musical theatre. Ostensibly about a Manhattan bachelor named Bobby and the four sets of married couples he is best friends with - in addition to a trio of girlfriends - Sondheim and book writer George Furth along with Hal Prince shaped an all new theatrical experience entirely, unmistakably its own. With Furth’s book providing many laughs and pointed insights into society at that time - circa 1970 - Sondheim’s complex and daring song choices investigated contemporary pop music styles and traditional theatre techniques and married them together with a urban colloquialism and intellectual edge rarely if ever heard in a score before to collectively create a musical sound and style quite unlike anything before or since. Then, there are those masterful Bacharach-esque Jonathan Tunick orchestrations! The Tony Awards committee apparently appreciated the show, as well, when they awarded it many major awards including Best Director, Best Music & Best Lyrics (then two separate categories), Best Book and Best Musical at that year's Tony Awards. The original cast featured a vast assortment of impressive performances and subsequent remountings of the celebrated show - particularly the various Broadway revivals and last year’s spectacular NY Philharmonic presentation starring Neil Patrick Harris, which was filmed live and presented in movie theaters worldwide - have evidenced its rich opportunities for actors of all shapes, sizes, styles and singing abilities. And the audience? Well, as long as people choose to get married - or choose to stay single - there will be an attentive audience out there able to reap the rewards offered forth by the psychologically complex, socially revealing and engrossingly entertaining COMPANY - one of the finest musical comedies ever written.
See Best Actor In A Musical nominee Raul Esparza essay Bobby and give his nuanced and passionate take on the role as seen in John Doyle’s acclaimed 2006 Broadway revival - here, at the 2007 Tony Awards - with his moving “Being Alive”; the show's searing final song.
Now, see 2012 Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris reprise his suave and memorable stage and film portrayal of Bobby in COMPANY - along with the rest of the starry NY Philharmonic cast; Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Lazar and Anika Noni Rose included - on the stage of the Beacon Theatre on the 2011 Tony Awards telecast. The cast performs the rousing Act Two opener, “Side By Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You?”
While no Tony Awards footage from COMPANY is readily available at this time, we do have the simply incredible D.A. Pennebaker documentary, ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY, and the classic characterizations of the original ensemble as represented in it. So, first, see Dean Jones give his take on “Being Alive” in the recording studio.
Next, see Elaine Stritch struggle to get an acceptable distillment of her iconic eleven o’clock number, "The Ladies Who Lunch", only to return the following day and positively nail it.
You can view the entire ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (in six parts) below.
So, what is it about COMPANY that has inspired so many revivals and reappraisals over the years? Is it Sondheim’s catchy and witty score with a pop edge all-too-rarely heard in his vast oeuvre? Is it the hilarious and all-too-poignant scenes of domestic life from Furth's bubbly book - whether concerning the lives of those married, single or in the middle? Or, perhaps, is it the time travel opportunities 1970-set productions allow for the actors and audience - a change to revisit the swingin’ 60s and the Upper East Side of Manhattan in that era? There are so many remarkable attributes of COMPANY and subsequent productions to the original have proven it need not even be period-set to pack a real punch. Yes, indeed - any production of COMPANY is well worth inviting over.