The New York Philharmonic’s Latest Sondheim Extravaganza: “Company”

I was lucky to attend the first of four performances by the New York Philharmonic this week of Stephen Sondheim's classic musical, "Company."  I had seen the recent Broadway revival, but otherwise my only exposure to this show had been through recordings (original cast, and also individual songs that show up frequently on Sondheim recital programs).  Because of the peculiar staging of the recent Broadway revival (with members of the cast carrying around instruments and playing the accompaniment to the songs), this semi-staged version was actually my first exposure to "Company" as a show rather than a concert piece.

As such, I found it to be a pretty dark affair at times, but one full of interesting insights into relationships and how people fall in and out of them.  The central figure of Bobby, the perennial bachelor entering middle age, was excellently portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris, whose acting and singing was a joy to behold.  (As I am not a "Glee" fan, I was unfamiliar with his stellar credentials in this regard.)  But the entire cast struck me as superb, including the surprising inclusion of Christina Hendricks ("Joan" from Mad Men) and Stephen Colbert (who knew?  He actually sang, danced and did some karate acrobatics rather well, all things considered…).  But for me the biggest show-stealer of the cast was Patti LuPone, who sang what is probably one of the most excerpted songs from this show –The Ladies Who Lunch — and made it a real thriller.

There were plenty of other terrific performances on display – one could easily mention the entire case, and so I should list the rest of them: Craig Bierko, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Aaron Lazar, Jill Paice, Martha Plimpton, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Jim Walton, Chryssie Whitehead.  There were also additional singers and dancers for the ensemble numbers.  Although there were press reports about how schedules and commitments made it difficult for the cast to do much rehearsing together (and the program had a healthy list of "rehearsal stand-ins"), on the night things seemed to come together seamlessly – or so it appeared to this spectator, although I suspect there were lots of people backstage with their fingers crossed!

Director Lonny Price and Choreographer Josh Rhodes took the narrow front stage of Avery Fisher and made it work with an ingenious production that never seemed static.  Paul Gemignani, the prince of Sondheim conductors, had the NYP (supplemented with appropriate rhythm section and extra winds) really humming, and the audio was handled rather well for this hall.  I was sitting just two seats over from my usual Philharmonic subscription seats (2nd tier, Box 4), and found the lyrics generally understandable, which is more than can be said for Philharmonic concerts at which singers are not amplified.  (And I will say that for classical music I prefer no amplification, but that means singers who sing out directly into the auditorium are imperfectly heard by patrons sitting in the side boxes up close, due to the acoustical failures perpetrated by the folks who designed the shape and configuration of this hall.) 

I thought it was a splendid evening, and I hope the Philharmonic will continue the custom of presenting these kinds of shows from time to time.

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