In 1970, Stephen Sondheim collaborated with George Furth (book) and Harold Prince (director) on 'Company.' Though not a forgotten play, 'Company' is more widely seen these days as laying the groundwork for Sondheim's "post-Golden Age" musicals -- an unusual, somewhat genre-defining show that is not quite classical in the grand Broadway tradition, but also hardly a true modernist, convention-defying masterwork as Sondheim's later 'Sweeney Todd.'
A true New York play (think of it like 'Sex and the City,' only less distaff), 'Company' follows five different couples in various states of marriage-dom -- pending, post, and suffering through it. The tale is filtered through Robert (Raul Esparza), a 35 year-old bachelor who has so far been unable to make it in a long-term relationship. The story proceeds through a series of vignettes, often about the more troubling aspects of commitment, even if the couples themselves seem to reveal otherwise. Eventually. Sondheim and Furth reveal the show's ultimate theme, which is that while imperfect, human relationships are simply essential to "Being Alive" (as the signature tune goes).
As with any long-running and oft-revived piece of theatre, 'Company' has undergone many interpretations and cast changes. Granted 'Company' has not received the same attention as many Sondheim plays, with only a couple of major revivals in the '90s, and then the 2006 redux (directed by Jim Doyle), the latter of which this Blu-ray documents. Having no familiarity with the previous versions of the show, I can only say that I felt 'Company' clicked very well with its latest cast. Esparza in particular modulates Sondheim and Furth's sometimes tricky dialogue with great dexterity. Other stand-outs are Barbara Walsh (as Joanne) and Kelly Jeanne Grant (as Kathy), who are sharp and smart. This is adult humor, sometimes playful, and makes for a fine night of theatre.
As an actual piece of "cinema," however, 'Company' is blandly typical of most filmed staged plays. It's visually inert, and there has been no snazzing up of the show. Though the editing is tight (aided by a multi-camera set-up that helps stave off boredom), there is, ironically, very little theatricality to the camera work. This is a front-and-center experience, one that adequately conveys the experience of watching it from the audience, but that's it -- a document of one particular show on one particular night.
For fans of 'Company' and Sondheim, however, that will more than do. Certainly, 'Company' is not in the same league as Sondheim classics like 'West Side Story' or 'Sweeney Todd.' And some may have issue with this particular production of the play. But for a slightly different side of Sondheim -- or just an insightful and comedic night out at the theatre -- 'Company' is worth checking out.
(It is worth noting that 'Company,' 2006-style, does make some controversial changes to the show. Sondheim himself authorized some changes to the music and lyrics, particularly some homophobic references, as well as some now-dated cultural allusions to sexual liberation and '60s politics. The heart of the show remains intact however, and it's likely no one but purists will mind such contemporary touches).
Image brings 'Company' to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.78:1) that's excellent. Granted, a filmed stage play does not offer much in the way of visual fireworks, but I can't imagine one looking much better than this.
Shot entirely with HD cameras, the presentation looks picture-window perfect. Blacks are pure, contrast excellent, and colors cleanly saturated. The lighting is far from stylized, but fleshtones are accurate and any intense hues come through vividly. Depth and detail are also terrific, with even the finest details of the costumes and sets plainly visible. Only a bit of noise distracts, but otherwise 'Company' looks great.
Three audio options are offered: English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit), English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and English PCM 2.0 Stereo (2.3mbps). (Oddly, there are no subtitles of any kind offered, not even English.)
Given the lack of surround presence to the mix, the DTS-MA and PCM tracks are a wash for me. There is next to nothing going in the rears except during some of the songs, but even then it's minimal. This is a dialogue-driven show, and on that count it does come through nicely. Dynamic range is healthy, with a smooth and clean sound. Low bass supports the action as needed and never overpowers. This is also an excellent recording, with no audible defects or the like. Again, 'Company' just isn't the type of material that makes for a demo disc, but for what it is, it's done well.
A small gaggle of extras are provided, all in 480i/MPEG-2 video (though at least formatted for 16:9 screens).
'Company' is far from the most well-known of Stephen Sondheim's works, but it is fresh, witty, and entertaining. This Blu-ray documents the play just fine, with excellent video, solid audio and a few supplements. However,'Company' will likely only appeal to diehard theatergoers and Sondheim fans, so that's probably who this Blu-ray is best left for.