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Today I am PBS’ biggest fan.
That’s because tonight, the long-running series “Great Performances” is premiering “Company,” a taped-from-the-stage production of the George Firth/Stephen Sondheim musical.
In case you are unfamiliar, “Company” is a landmark musical from 1970 that bypassed traditional story structure to focus on character rather than plot. It concerns a bachelor, Bobby, celebrating his 35th birthday in the company of his married friends. His ambivalence toward marriage is the driving force of the show, which contains terrific songs including “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Another Hundred People.” To hear Sondheim discuss the development of the “Company,” click here.
The production taped for this broadcast is the recent Broadway revival, which starred Raul Esparza.
The broadcast is far from unique for PBS. In fact, just about everything Sondheim has written in the past few decades has found its way to PBS and, eventually, to video and DVD. All have been incredibly well produced, capturing the spirit of the stage experience without sacrificing viewing pleasure.
Many of them are available in the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library’s collection, so if you enjoy tonight’s broadcast, let me recommend:
— “Into the Woods.” Sondheim’s twist on fairy tales ends Act One with happily ever after. Act Two explores what happens when the characters have to deal with the ramifications of their actions.
— “Sunday in the Park with George.” Critics and Sondheim fans are split about whether the second act is really necessary, but judge for yourself in this Mandy Patinkin/Bernadette Peters musical about, as one of its songs says, “Children and Art.”
— “Sweeney Todd.” Before Misters Burton and Depp got their bloody hands on the show, PBS aired one of the best direct-from-the-stage productions, featuring George Hearn and original star Angela Lansbury.
— “Passion.” This intimate musical actually plays better on screen than it did on stage. It tells of a disturbing love triangle involving a soldier, his married lover, and a sickly, unattractive woman obsessed with him.
— “Follies in Concert.” While the original production of this show—considered by many to feature Sondheim’s richest music—was not taped, a Lincoln Center star-studded celebration of the music was, and is the subject of this part-concert film/part-documentary.
— “Original Cast Album—Company.” Legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (“Monterey Pop,” “Don’t Look Back”) directed this fascinating behind-the-scenes, warts-and-all look at the making of a Broadway cast recording.