This is another of those real finds and a major treat. Not just because of how special it is, and pleased I was able to find it...but mainly because I had no idea it even existed!
This a reunion in 1993 of almost ALL the original cast members from Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1970 musical Company, re-creating most of the show in a concert reading 23 years later!
What little I could find is that only two original cast members are missing, though I can't tell who. All the major performers I'm able to recognize (either by appearance or voice, from the original cast album) are there. Elaine Stritch, Charles Kimbrough (who later played anchorman Jim Dial on the TV series Murphy Brown), Barbara Barrie, George Coe, Beth Howland (who was Vera on the series, Alice) Pamela Myers, and Susan Browning. And most notably, Dean Jones back as Bobby. Jones famously left the show very early on, in what was later believed to be personal matter when he was going through a divorce. He recorded the original cast album, but Larry Kert -- the original Tony in West Side Story -- took over and received significant credit for the show's success. But watching Jones here, best-known for a lot of light-hearted Disney movies, he's wonderful and gives credibility to his part in the show getting off to such a good start. His performance here with the showstopping, emotional closing number, "Being Alive," is tremendous. (A personal thought: I wonder how much his invigorating performance and enthusiasm is due to him having the rare, second chance to re-visit a major show that he had had to abruptly leave so early. Maybe not. Maybe so.)
A couple of general things stand out. One is how terrific and fresh everyone's performances are. There is nothing creaky here or phoned-in. This is a vibrant, fresh, enthusiastic production, even with it just being concert-staging. There's still some choreography, and it's a joy. More on one particular scene in a moment.
And the other is how much fun everyone seems to be having, often breaking character (after finishing a number, never during) as they head back to their seat, their faces filled with pleasure. And others in the cast showing as much appreciation, beaming and applauding one another after a stand-out moment -- of which there are many. They all appear to be having the time of their lives. And it shows in the performances. (It shows too in the enthusiastic appreciation of the audience, which clearly knows the show and its history.)
To be clear, this is not a production of the full show. Mostly, it's just a re-creation of the songs. There's one major exception -- the opening. The show here beings with what seems to be the full dialogue of the first scene of the musical.
The video recording and sound is reasonably clear. All perfectly watchable. I have mixed-feelings when shows are recorded in the audience, but one of the lines I think worth crossing is when there's historic value AND enough time has passed. This easily qualifies on both counts. To think that without this video the production would have been lost is noteworthy.
It's also amusing to see Patti LuPone introduce the evening, since 18 years later in 2011 she starred in the limited-run production, taking the Elaine Stritch role of Joanne.
I've seen a couple good productions of Company, and this, even just being a concert production, and only mostly the songs, and re-creating something from 23 later and a mediocre video, may well be the best interpretation, done with graceful ease, the insight of time, and affection.
I thought the whole production was wonderful, and there are a handful of gem numbers in the first half (the title song, "Sorry-Grateful, "Another Hundred People," "Not Getting Married" and more), but the second act had most of the special, stand-out highlights for me. If you want to jump right to those rather than watch the entire production, here's a guide --
43:30 -- "Side by Side-Where Would You Be Without Me." This is a full-blown production that lasts 9 minutes (10, if you count the ovation at the end), and is a total, showstopping joy. It brings down the house.
57:50 -- "Tick-Tock." This is the famous solo dance that brought Donna McKechnie to fame. I'm not a huge fan of dance numbers, and especially interpretive dance, but this...this...boy, howdy, this is spectacular and utterly mesmerizing . There are times you watch in awe. It would have been stunning in 1970 (and was, from all that's been written about it, but that she's still this tremendous 23 years later and goes all-out in this concert-production is almost other-worldly. Then again, given that this is Donna McKechnie, who blew away Broadway in A Chorus Line, that's not surprising. I'm not quite sure what is going on in the scene, but the impression I get is that a couple of characters are having a one-night stand, and this is the show's way of interpreting that. Or something along those lines. The number has been cut from most subsequent productions, in part because Sondheim and director Hal Prince didn't think it's essential to the show, and in part because it requires someone who can dance like Donna McKechnie.
1:05:45 -- "Ladies Who Lunch." Okay, this is Elaine Strich's number. For those who know the show, nothing more need be said. For those who don't know the show -- well, you can figure out, this is a showstopper,
1:11:30 -- "Being Alive." As I said above, this is Dean Jones' big number, and he knocks it out of the park. It's a very good song on the cast album. But here, all the emotion comes bursting out. Stick around after to watch the curtain call. It comes after the finale reprise of the title song and will be blocked for a few seconds, but the camera picks things up soon enough. And the pleasure is to see how enthralled the cast is by it all.
You may well be, too.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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