Original Cast Album: Company (1970)

D.A. PENNEBAKER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1970. , . Cinematography by , , D.A. Pennebaker.  Produced by , , , .

D.A. Pennebaker was invited to film the recording session of the cast album of the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a show that continues to be revived and reimagined to this day thanks to its timeless subject matter and music and lyrics that were well ahead of its time. What was initially suggested as a television series of filming cast recordings ended up being the only completed episode, but what Pennebaker captures is a fascinating and intense experience worthy on its own. For this specific musical, which has remained successful through multiple iterations and has never gone out of style, it’s a fascinating record of Company‘s evergreen qualities while simultaneously capturing the particular style of singing and musical arrangement that was current at the time.

In a densely packed recording studio where cigarette smoke is perpetually coiling its way to the ceiling, the cast, among them , , , , and , are placed before microphones and musicians are placed behind music stands, while composer and lyricist , playwright , the show’s director and recording producer oversee the production of the many memorable songs. As cast member points out, when on stage it’s much easier to perform these numbers, the movement and the singing and the audience connection all make it feel like a spontaneous experience, while having to whittle all those elements down to simply getting a perfect take of their vocals is much more challenging.

Making things that much more difficult is the fact that this recording session is not being spread out over a generous period of time, they are laying these tracks down on one night and will keep going until they are done, which means that by the time they get to Stritch recording her “Ladies Who Lunch” solo at five in the morning, everyone has reached the end of a very frayed rope.

Stritch’s insisting to her concerned crew that she can get it right that same night without the need for a few days break has entered legend by this point, and is rather overblown by second-hand description as the meltdown of a famously outsized personality. In reality she isn’t throwing a diva tantrum, she’s just tired and anxious to not be seen as someone who demands to be pampered, and between her willingness to keep going and the producers’ gentle suggestion that get some rest, an awkward situation arises, quite accidentally, out of the tragedy of everyone’s good intentions.

The result is rewarding, however, for Stritch and for us, and Broadway fans should definitely not miss the opportunity to watch this incredibly detailed look at every aspect of putting on a show.

The Criterion Collection#1090

 

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