Music

Various Artists: Company

The best thing about this is that it reminds us of the absolute genius of Stephen Sondheim.


Various Artists

Company

Subtitle: 2006 Broadway Revival Cast
Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2007-02-20
UK Release Date: 2007-02-26
Amazon
iTunes

Last fall, a very strange revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company opened on Broadway. Director John Doyle staged the show with the great Raul Esparza in the lead role of Robert; there was nothing unusual or bold about this, as Esparza is one of the most talented actors to hit Broadway in years. it was the rest of the cast that made news. All the other roles were staffed by actors and singers who also made up the orchestra by playing instruments. This approach was not exactly new, as Doyle had just used it for a revival of Sweeney Todd. But by all accounts, it worked a lot better in Company, which is a small personal show instead of a Grand Guignol/Brechtian epic opera.

This soundtrack album cannot really recreate the effect of seeing the show live, but no soundtrack album really can. It does, however, prove a few things. First of all, it shows that an innovative approach like this can make for a vital listening experience. The small-orchestra feel is perfectly pitched for the intimacy of this show, which focuses on a New York bachelor who is re-assessing his single-guy lifestyle in light of the relationships of his married friends. The sound is flawless and the musicians acquit themselves very well, even when called on to turn a flute into a telephone answering machine beep.

This record also shows that actors who play instruments can also sing the hell out of some songs. Angel Desai burns it up on "Another Hundred People", and Elizabeth Mitchell is crystalline in her duet with Esparza on "Barcelona". Barbara Walsh's version of that modern chestnut "The Ladies Who Lunch" might actually rival the classic Elaine Stritch reading.

But it is pretty clear that Esparza is equal to carrying this show on his own back. He is strong in the role of a weak man, a nice enough guy who is also a womanizing solipsist. He interacts perfectly with the rest of the singers, even in songs like "Company" and "Side by Side by Side", which require some of the most difficult timing ever attempted onstage. And when he gets to solo, he shines very brightly: "Someone Is Waiting" is intense and beautiful, and the big weepy showstopper "Being Alive" manages to make more emotional sense than I've ever heard on record before. Please, can everyone just give him all the big Broadway male roles from now until he's 99 years old?

Ultimately, though, the best thing about this disc is that it reminds us of the absolute genius of Stephen Sondheim. Sure, he's an all-star -- but isn't it time to just admit that he might be the greatest songwriter in American history? I mean, there's always Smokey Robinson and George Gershwin and Erykah Badu and Duke Ellington and Cindy Walker and a lot of other people... but damn, people, Stephen Sondheim! There's plenty of room on this bandwagon. Jump aboard and let's all sing "Marry Me a Little" together.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image