Well, dear readers, by the time I saw Company in its national tour at the Ahmanson Theatre, starring most of the Broadway cast and George Chakiris as Bobby, I was already in love with the score and had been longing to see the show ever since hearing the album, which I’d played to death. I was already a big fan of my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, from his lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy, and his music and lyrics to Forum and Anyone Can Whistle. But nothing could have prepared me for Company. The first thing I noticed about it right from the first track was how close in sound it was to Promises, Promises – from the orchestrations, which were by Jonathan Tunick, who’d just done Promises, to the use of the pit singers, to the contemporary rhythms and feels of Bacharach and others. Promises was, in fact, the show that changed the sound of Broadway. Now we not only had the new sound of Broadway but we had it coupled with brilliant lyrics and equally brilliant music. The songs were bracing, fresh, brittle, touching, tuneful, and unlike anything we’d really heard up until then. If Promises changed the sound of Broadway, Company changed what musicals could be in the 1970s.
And then, sitting in the Ahmanson, watching the amazing Boris Aronson set, Hal Prince’s beyond brilliant direction, hearing George Furth’s wonderful dialogue, and that cast and Michael Bennett’s choreography – it was like discovering a new world. And Sondheim’s score just shone through like a diamond. It was a matinee, and the show got a tepid response from the full house – probably it hit just a little too close to the matinee crowd, especially The Ladies Who Lunch, which must have seemed like a personal assault on the ladies in the audience. But one knew one was seeing something extraordinary and it remained a vivid memory and still does.
I saw a couple of stagings later and none of them did a thing for me because unlike the original, the casting wasn’t spot on, or the staging was lax and ineffective and the choreography nowhere near Mr. Bennett’s. Then in 1993 when I was preparing to do Unsung Sondheim, Mr. Sondheim arranged a house seat for me to see the Company reunion concert at Lincoln Center. Having seen the stagings that hadn’t worked for me, I’d begun to question whether the show wasn’t just hopelessly dated, or if I was looking at it through rose-colored glasses. But that matinee performance at Lincoln Center immediately showed me it was just as good as I remembered, with the added major plus of having Dean Jones there, certainly the most wonderful Bobby I’ve seen. Donna McKechnie recreated Tick Tock and it was as electrifying as it had been twenty years before. And to hear Stritch once again deliver her zingers as no one has ever been able to do as well, was just magical. The icing on the cake, of course, was that I went directly from Lincoln Center to Mr. Sondheim’s house, my first in-person meeting with him. And then we shared a cab – he going to the evening performance at Lincoln Center, me going to Joe Allen. In the cab, we talked about Unsung Sondheim, which he was thrilled we were doing, and I suddenly told him that for all the reviews of Company back in the day, the party line was that his lyrics and music were cold and brittle and icy, with no heart. I said, “Isn’t it funny that twenty years later it sounds, in a good way, like the classic Broadway score it’s always been – and isn’t it funny that it is FILLED with heart.” He threw up his hands (no mean feat) and said, “I know, tell them!”
Then I saw the Roundabout revival, which I really didn’t care for at all. They’d added Marry Me a Little and a new scene (the “gay” scene) in act two and I really hated both and thought they hurt rather than helped the show – the show didn’t need anyone’s help, didn’t need to be “revised” and that version is the one that seems to always be done these days and I wish they’d just stop it. Both sequences stop the flow of the show cold – going from the post Getting Married Today scene with Bobby and Amy directly to the end of act one was perfection. Sticking this song there, which throws everything out of balance with a song that was not written for that spot in the show (it was one of several Being Alive wannabes before Being Alive was written) is just wrong. And the same the “gay” scene, which just doesn’t work for me at all. In fact, I found it just as harmful as Marry Me a Little.
I saw the filmed version of the John Doyle production, which I thought was absolutely horrid – I couldn’t even appreciate the performances because frankly it was just a bunch of actors marching around with instruments. I really didn’t want to see any more of Company – I just wanted to be left with my beautiful memory of Hal Prince’s extraordinary production and the show as originally written.
And then, in came Company last night at the Signature Theater. I wish I could say it was a perfect production but I can’t. Some casting choices that don’t work, the directorial conceit of all gray costumes (why?), and the inclusion of the two sequences I hate. But what I did enjoy was the writing and that score and when things came together as they occasionally did, I had a great time. Some of the scenes played very well, and that included the East Coast Singer and the guy who played her husband – that actor was, I felt, the only cast member who “got” George Furth’s very specific dialogue rhythms. The Marta, who played her very contemporary sounding was funny, but not of the correct era, and I have to say that Barcelona, a song that even in the worst of what I’ve seen, has always landed, didn’t here – just too many weird staging and acting choices. It was a small band of ten doing reduced Tunick orchestrations, and when one is used to the real deal, nothing else really works. I truly heart Company, but I truly think I’m done seeing it. That said, it’s always fun to see the East Coast Singer strut her stuff. They’re lucky to have her.
Prior to that, we had a nice work session, talked about Sandy’s upcoming cabaret act, and then, prior to the show, we dined at a place called Busboys and Poets, where I had great blackened salmon, and several of us shared a white chocolate bread pudding with coconut ice cream, which was fairly amazing. Dear reader Kevin Hall was there, and he was kind enough to bring me four bags of chocolate licorice. All in all, a fun day and evening. It did rain a bit, but it was done by seven and today is supposed to be very nice. I also printed out my boarding pass.
Today, I may get up early and try to do the treadmill, but my legs are so sore I can barely move, so we’ll have to see. Then Sandy will gather us up at 10:30 and we’ll work till about two, at which point Sandy will take me to the airport, after which I shall be winging my way home to Los Angeles and then the City of Studio. So, please send your strongest most excellent vibes and xylophones for a safe, secure, and on-time flight.
Tomorrow I’ll try to just relax and then I think I’m seeing a show in the evening, and the same thing on Friday. I think the weekend is pretty free and I hope it stays that way.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, maybe do the treadmill, have a work session, then fly home. Today’s topic of discussion: What was your first Sondheim show – talk about it in detail – the when, the where, the reaction. Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, after which I shall work and then be winging my way home. Don’t forget your strongest most excellent vibes and xylophones for a safe, secure, and on-time flight.