Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More than Company

Last night I went to a screening in a movie theater of Stephen Sondheim's Company performed by the New York Philharmonic and starring Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby. Somehow, this production was a revelation in a way that I haven't experienced with previous versions. The production itself was magnificent, with its lush orchestral sounds, star-studded cast and spectacular precision, but it was more than that. The performances were tight and nuanced and thoughtful in ways that made me think about and feel the meaning of the play in ways I hadn't before.

Perhaps it's where I am in my life now that shifted the meaning of the show for me. Being over thirty and having friends who are married and having children, and more importantly having long conversations over many beers with friends evaluating and agonizing over desires to or not to get married and have children, certainly made me think differently and more personally about the relationships and life choices depicted in the musical. But I think there were details of this production and the truly skilled acting of Neil Patrick Harris in particular that made me rethink the show as well. I have always loved and appreciated Company, but this time I felt it and it felt true and right and honest and scary in ways that it never has before.

The show was completely sexy (mmm... Neil Patrick Harris and Christina Hendricks in bed together) and completely cynical (although Elaine Stritch still beats Patti LuPone in my mind for sheer joyous drunken cynicism) and yet managed to communicate a deeper, more reflective meditation on marriage than I have ever felt. My own personal philosophies about building a community of friendships rather than focusing on the individual or couple was both reflected and challenged as I watched the performances onscreen, and the beloved friend who had been meditating, Bobby-like, on marriage realized that his own individual agonies were more common, perhaps universal, than he thought. Part of me smiled ironically when I watched "Side by Side by Side" and reflected on it as a depiction of a bunch of heterosexual married couples who relied on the unappreciated and unreciprocated labor of the queer person excluded from the institution of marriage (Harris, not Bobby) to keep the institution of marriage going. Though I could have used more of "Being Alive" at the end, with Harris's heartbreaking high notes, the end of the play is beautiful and bittersweet in a way that reconciles my own personal cynicism about marriage with possibilities of Bobby's personal transformation and leaves me happy and hopeful. It's an unbelieveably lovely, detailed, tight production filled with consummate professional performers. I highly recommend it and I will be rushing to buy it if and when it comes to DVD.