It’s increasingly common for stage productions to be shown at the cinema. NT Live and Met Opera have been doing this for a while and though it’s never going to fully match the live experience, it allows people to see shows that might otherwise remain geographically or financially prohibitive, as well as giving everyone a chance to catch those sell out performances.
More2Screen’s presentation of a gala performance of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company, enables UK audiences to see this once in a lifetime cast in a stunning, fully orchestrated production. Performed by the mighty New York Philharmonic for a very limited run last year, this production features an ensemble cast that is unlikely to be matched any time soon, so even seeing it at a remove was an opportunity not to be missed.
Neil Patrick Harris plays Robert, the eternal bachelor who hits his 35th birthday and suddenly starts to wonder what there is to his life and whether he should be settling down. With his background in theatre, Harris is, unsurprisingly, outstanding in the role. Having spent the last seven years playing a serial womanizer in the US comedy How I Met Your Mother, the character of Robert is hardly a challenge for him, and he manages to perfectly balance the charisma that sees all of these friends cleave to him, with a yearning and vulnerability that gives the character real depth.
His star turn is supported by an incredibly strong cast including Broadway legend Patti LuPone, who proves just how worthy she is of adulation and acclaim with a fabulously booze-soaked and cynical performance as Joanne, the ageing gold-digger with a heart almost as bruised as her liver. Likewise, having proved her chops in Dreamgirls, it’s little surprise that Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose excels as Marta. But to me, the real surprises were those performers who are less well-known for their stage work: John Cryer, Martha Plimpton and Stephen Colbert are all better recognized for their work in TV comedy, but each one turned in a superb performance. Even Christina Hendricks, here saddled with the most dated of roles, that of the dumb-as-a-sack-of-rocks air stewardess, handles things with charm and aplomb. Of the other roles, no one put a foot wrong, though Katie Finneran deserves singling out for her hilariously hysterical rendition of “Getting Married Today”.
Director Lonny Price excels at keeping the staging both slick and pleasingly simple: it would be easy to feel a little overwhelmed or distracted by the presence of the orchestra behind the actors, but instead this is wittily referred to (conductor Paul Gemignani becoming an unintentional prop on more than one occasion) and the almost constant on-stage presence of many of the cast members reinforces the idea that Robert’s life is one lived under scrutiny.
There are, of course, disadvantages to watching this on screen rather than live. Laughter, which can be very natural in a theatre environment, doesn’t comes across too well in the cinema, so that some of the spoken scenes suffered from feeling like something out of a 70s sitcom with a poorly engineered laugh track. But the energy of the piece shone through: more than once at my screening the audience burst into applause, and the reception at the final curtain was as rapturous as if the actors had been there in person. I, for one, left grateful to have been given a chance to see such a spectacular performance: and I hope we see more of its kind in UK cinemas.