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"Company," From Then to Now
February 20, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
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The PBS series Great Performances, tonight at 9 ET (check local listings), presents a telecast of the 2006 revival of Company, the groundbreaking Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. Raul Esparza plays Bobby, the single man surrounded by ambivalently married couples - and the staging, by director John Doyle, requires that the actors double as their own orchestra.

It's definitely worth seeing, and it's quite enjoyable. For me, though, nothing beats my memory of seeing the original 1970 production, in my first trip to New York City.

Even though I spent the last 20 years as a New York TV critic, I didn't get to the city, for the first time, until my senior year of high school. I traveled from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, part of a Performing Arts theater trip organized by Nova High School teachers Allen Hill and Joyce Hall. As a student, I had designed lighting for our school musicals; now I was about to see real theater for the first time, on Broadway.

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The first day, we saw a matinee of Purlie, starring Cleavon Little and Melba Moore - an astoundingly energetic, entertaining new musical. Then, that night, we saw Company. Dean Jones had left the show, and Larry Kert had taken his place. But Elaine Stritch was still in the cast singing "The Ladies Who Lunch," a show-stopping number I'll never forget.

I was a kid then, but Sondheim's lyrics hit me like a punch in the gut. Ever since, they always have. Seeing Company that day remains one of my favorite moments at the theater - and the following year, when our school troupe returned to New York and I snared some box seats for Sondheim's Follies, I cemented a love affair with his music and output that has continued unabated ever since.

Any original or Broadway revival of any Sondheim show, I'll be there - and I'm still angry that the Roundabout Theatre's Assassins wasn't filmed for TV, and that Encore's Follies wasn't recorded for posterity. This year's Roundabout revival of Sunday in the Park with George? Already have tickets to see it twice - and the end of act one, in the original production, is another of my all-time theater thrills.

For those who can't get to Broadway, or haven't seen Company, I almost envy your chance to be introduced to this fabulous score, and these insightful and unforgettable lyrics, through the easy miracle of television. Over the years, the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim have meant an awful lot to me. The older I get, the smarter he seems... but it's just me getting mature enough to understand what his characters are singing.

Listen tonight, and you'll be grateful, not sorry.

 
 
 
 
 
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