Review: Stephen Colbert in ‘Company’

Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton, and Neil Patrick Harris doing a little tumbling

Photo Credit: Chris Lee/New York Philharmonic house photographer

Hey, Zoners, I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long for a write-up of last night’s incredible show at Avery Fisher Hall. After a long day that ended with me getting home in the wee hours of the morning, I needed a full night’s sleep and a chance to think about last night to put it into the right perspective. There’s no way I could have written anything coherent when I got home, for the simple reason that my excitement level was still so high. I may or may not have been guilty of sending DB a message that included a shameful abuse of caps and the words ‘massive flailing.’ So, yes, I needed to calm down a little bit.

First of all, I have to give a disclaimer here: I’m no theater geek. I go to shows in New York occasionally if something looks worth the ridiculous price of a ticket, but most of my recent theater-going has been in support of my nephew, who is a theater arts major at a nearby university. While I’m familiar with quite a bit of Stephen Sondheim’s work, Company is something that was off my radar until recently. I’ve never seen it before, so I have nothing to compare to last night’s performance.

I’ll start off by saying that the entire production was outstanding. This was billed as a ‘semi-staged’ performance, which meant a minimal set and not much in the way of props and costume changes. There also wasn’t a lot of room onstage for the actors since the orchestra took up most of the stage. But within those limits, it was a complete performance of the play, with all the singing, plenty of dancing, and even tumbling! And yes, all the long-time, hardcore Colbert fans would’ve recognized those tumbling moves right away. More about that later.

From his first moments on the stage, Stephen looked completely natural and at ease with his role. Anyone who was only familiar with him from the Report and who might have been looking for the character they were used to seeing on TV would have seen no sign of punditStephen at all. His big scene with Martha Plimpton and Neil Patrick Harris came very early in the play, and he did his best to get the maximum laughs from his character. The little karate demonstration that we saw in the rehearsal video and some of the photos went off hilariously, with Stephen winding up pinned to the floor a couple of times, once by Martha Plimpton and a second time by both her and NPH. That one vignette was Stephen’s longest stretch in the spotlight. For the remainder of the play, he mostly blended in with the ensemble. But the one remaining standout moment, at least for the true Colbert fans, came during the big song and dance number ‘Side-by-Side-by-Side,’ which included the entire cast. During that number, Stephen and Martha Plimpton did one of the signature moves from the tumbling routine that Stephen used to do with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello. (They did the move that happens at about the 5:00 mark in the video.) As soon as I realized what they were doing, I laughed and started clapping in total glee, then stopped when I saw that no one around me recognized those moves. Oops. Outed myself as a geek. Oh well. They finished the abbreviated tumbling routine with Stephen holding Martha and Neil Patrick Harris in that classic pose in the photo above. Honestly, for a Colbert fan, it was a completely joyful moment.Split 2017 streaming

There were so many outstanding individual performances last night that it’s hard to single out any particular one, including Stephen. As much as we love him, and as talented as we know him to be, he was onstage with performers who have much more musical theater experience than he does. Yet he kept up with the best of them quite effortlessly and gave a brilliant performance of his own. His singing was as wonderful as we know it can be, and his dancing was excellent, but his comedic abilities really shined through the brightest while he was up there. He knows how to get a laugh better than almost anyone I can think of, and it helps that he was working with some very funny material. Above all, he proved that he belonged there on the stage, that his presence was no mere stunt to pull in a crowd. If he ever wanted to make a case for himself as a potential host of the Tony Awards — or better yet, as a future musical theater star — I think he’s done that this weekend. I’m so happy that this incredible opportunity to do something so different and exciting was given to him. He proved that he’s more than up to the challenge.

There’s so much more I could say about this show, but honestly, I don’t know enough superlatives to express how wonderful and thoroughly entertaining it was web link. I’ll have a post with some of the reviews from the press later on, but in the meantime, I know there were other Zoners at last night’s show, so I’ll let them add their say, and I’ll chime in with more thoughts in the comments as they come to me.


  1. colbaby says:

    “Oops. Outed myself as a geek.”

    Correction. Outed yourself as a HERO.

    • Oh, right, right. I forgot myself for a minute. Thanks for that!

    • Don’t worry, there were some other it-getters in the top boxes who were laughing and clapping with recognition and glee when the tumbling moves showed up.

  2. WOW!!! That sounds amazing Ann G. Thanks for the fantastic Report.

  3. leorabk says:

    How fun!! Was it filmed by any chance? I would love to see footage from that!!

  4. lockhart43 says:

    …but honestly, I don’t know enough superlatives to express how wonderful and thoroughly entertaining it was

    Sometimes superlatives are really the only way to describe something so amazing. And don’t worry, Ann, your recap was perfectly coherent. ;) Thanks for the wonderful review, it was a joy to read!

  5. Oh my, thank you so much for this wonderful report, Ann!

    I’ve been reading any and all reviews of Company that I could find, but as good as reviews might be, there’s just something about having a fellow fan’s perspective that is just fantastic, and I’d been dying to read one. :)

  6. jentaps says:

    Thank you so much, Ann G, for a terrific recap of what was surely a wonderful night! I’m so happy for Stephen. He looks like he’s having the time of his life in that picture.

    I’ll just have to be patient until June. I hope the movie comes to my town!

  7. Thanks Alison for the film details, and thanks Ann for the great review! I’m sure it was wonderful.

  8. pkyoubuggin says:

    Just got back from the Sat. night show and I think your write up summarized everything well. NPH was the star of the show, and did a great job,but Stephen performed his character beautifully as well. It was so great to see him up there with some amazing fellow performers, and his chemistry with Martha Plimpton was really palpable. I was mostly happy to see the cameras rolling on either side of the stage, because that means all the zoners will be able to check it out in june (hopefully).
    It was really nice to see him in an ensemble, blending in, and not in his typical character. I also really loved seeing him dance, because we see him do his moves all the time on TCR, but in person, it was really thrilling. Basically nice to see him away from his desk, interacting with other terrific actors, terrific Sondheim music, terrific, very relevant material, despite the fact it is set in 1970.
    Particularly awesome aspects of my NYC trip thus far: Fri night I met Jimmy Fallon at the “Book of Mormon,” and I managed to compliment him on the “Friday” collaboration he did with SC. He just ended up next to me as we were exiting the show, so I had to say something. JF is really a nice guy, very considerate to talk those around him, and totally worthy of being Stephen BFFSM.
    I was with a fellow zoner tonight at the program, and right in front of us were Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick checking out the show. I am assume they were there at least in part for Stephen, but I am sure for some of the other actors as well.
    The awesomest thing was that Sondheim was also present, four rows down from the stage. As someone who has performed in Sondheim musicals, and have some appreciation for the heart and quality in his work, I cannot imagine anything more flattering than performing Sondheim’s work in front of him.
    Really, Stephen and the rest of the cast deserve big ups for a great show, a production of excellent quality given their time constraints.

    • lockhart43 says:

      So let me get this straight. You saw the “Book of Mormon,” met Jimmy Fallon, saw “Company,” sat behind Matthew Broderick, saw Stephen dance and act and basically be amazing, and were in the same room as Stephen Sondheim. Yeah, I’d say that was a pretty successful trip to New York City.

      Also: I am equally jealous of and thrilled for you. :D

      • pkyoubuggin says:

        I feel like the luckiest person alive– for a Colbert fangirl. When I make these trips, really good things happen to me, SC brings me luck. As long as Stephen doesn’t accept gigs in Bangalore, I will try to be wherever he is performing as much as possible. Sort of like the grateful dead. I wanted to see Book of Mormon, because I needed other things to do than to wait for the clock to say 8 on Saturday for Company. I was sitting at the show, minding my own, and I turned around and was like, was that Jimmy Fallon? Because he looks exactly the same as he does on TV, and he was wearing his show taping suit. So then I thought, don’t be a huge geek, although he was taking pics with people, taking it all in stride. Then he was walking out next to me, and no one was talking to him really (!), so I pounced. I told him how much I liked Friday, and he said he really liked working with Stephen, and I made a comment to him that he and Stephen have a lot in common, being 2 Irish catholic guys in comedy, which made him laugh a little (and I was like-Win!), and he then said that “I really had no idea that Stephen promised that money” and I said “Yes I read that,” and then I made a few other comments to him before we parted ways. I was just grateful he was nice to me, because I really appreciate what these guys do every day. JF looked really tired-I think he was at the show to see what all the buzz was about.

        • lockhart43 says:

          Aw, that’s awesome that he was so nice (which I imagine him to be). It’s always great to hear a famous person being genuine, and exactly what you hope them to be. I will say again that Stephen is the nicest person on the face of the planet (and can say that from personal experience). Line up every other person on the planet, and he is nicer than them. That is a hyperbole that I will actually argue, lol. And look at you acting all cool, calm, and collected, talking to Jimmy Fallon and making him laugh!

          A big part of me is just jealous that you saw Book of Mormon. I want to see it so bad!

        • I can attest to Jimmy Fallon being super nice in person too. I met him back in ’04 after a SNL taping. The whole cast was incredibly kind (not so nice: Donald Trump who was hosting that night), but Jimmy was the standout…..he signed for every single person and took pictures and sang happy birthday to me (someone else told him, I was way too shy lol). He has absolutely no star attitude whatsoever and I’ve always adored that about him since. I’m so glad good things continue to happen for him and I’m REALLY glad he’s Stephen’s BFFSM!!! :D

        • Mr. Arkadin says:

          “…I will try to be wherever he is performing as much as possible. Sort of like the grateful dead.”

          Stephen as Jerry Garcia?! I think this is awesome! (Minus the endless guitar solos, thank God!)
          So does this make you a colhead? …I’m going to go ahead and say, YES!

          Thanks pkyoubuggin for your great reporT & congrats on all the wonderful things that you got to experience. :)

        • pkyoubuggin says:

          @ Mr. Arkadin If I were unemployed I would totally follow SC around like a Dead Head. I think you need to take copious amounts of psychedelics for that kind of lifestyle as well, and I am too “square” for that (sorry, I have the Company vernacular still in my head-there is a lot of talk about “squares” in the Company script :)

        • pkyoubuggin says:

          @lockhart43 I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to meet SC in person, but he has a sterling reputation as a nice guy. I am glad you met him. I content myself with going to these gigs. I have also been to a taping, hope to go again in the future.
          Also, you should see Book of Mormon. I want to go again, I hope it has a “Cats” like epic run on B-way so it can be seen again!

  9. I was at the 2 pm show Saturday (also filmed). Loved it! I don’t have too much to add the the excellent reports – just a couple things. First, Stephen’s solo in “Sorry-Grateful” was really well done. It sounded like he did it in tenor -which I think is his strongest register (though he can also do bass, of course).

    I agree that Stephen fit right in with e very talented cast. He did really well with the physical comedy and dance moves (I also caught the Amy Sederis – Paul Dinello tumbling move.)

    The sound at Avery Fisher Hall was fantastic, even from my back row seat. It was great hearing a musical done with a full, top-flight orchestra.

    A funny moment – when the actors came on for encores Stephen nearly collided with an actress (Patti Lupone, I think). He was bouncing over to the other actors and blocked her path a bit, I think. Nothing major, They seemed to laugh it off. It was the only miscue I saw at all and it was after the final number,

    Neil Patrick Harris was excellent as the lead. I also really liked Katie Finneran as the bride with cold feet.

    Anyway, great show, glad to see it will be in the theaters, And , yeah, I could definitely see Stephen doing more musicals in the future.

  10. pkyoubuggin says:

    I would also like to give the NY Philharmonic major props. They adapted themselves to the poppy style of Company’s music, and it came across as a very natural adaptation. The strings added in were incredibly beautiful. You couldn’t have a better orchestra for your first time doing Sondheim, so I was especially psyched for Stephen. He sounded really great with them.
    There is an insert in the program here, (I wish I had a magical scanner!), saying that the movie version will be available in HD of course during the week of June 15, courtesy of Screenvision and EMK Productions.
    The site is companyonscreen dot com (Ha! beat moderation, j/k :)

    • Heh. Even my own comments with links get caught in moderation, so don’t worry about getting around it. We approve the comments as soon as we can, but sometimes we don’t see them for awhile if all of us are busy.

      Someone else already put the link into a comment upthread, but thanks for the reminder!

  11. I just sent DB the fourth and final version of my review from last night’s production of “Company.” I was also one of the very lucky fans who got to see Stephen at 8 pm on Saturday night, and it’s just so interesting to me to see how much I agreed with all of the comments from fellow theatergoers posted here! Like Ann G, I was also so excited when I got home that I could hardly contain myself! I actually stayed up until 3 a.m. writing up my review, so I hope you will like it and that it will be posted when DB has some time to breathe… Oh, DB, I’m sorry for those 4 versions (!), but lack of sleep does not good grammar make (ha!).
    But here’s a brief version of my review: LOVED IT!!!!

  12. Karenatasha says:

    My own review isn’t written yet–I worked on the Fantasy Colbert League instead, since Ann covered the basics so very well. I should have it done tonight or by tomorrow afternoon. I will say, a lovely time was had by all, the audience was suitably enthusiastic, and “Company” is a gorgeous work–even “semi-staged.”

  13. I am so hoping the screen version comes to my local used-to-be-a-Ritz theater.

  14. somuch2kno says:

    Fair warning, I’m about unfurl the full measure of my fan-girl flag.

    Since my original expectation for this “concert/staging” was a fairly static, book-in-hand performance, the rehearsal pictures and footage released this past week of a more fully realized production had me even more psyched than I thought possible. The friend I went with on Friday had to endure me calling him throughout the day to tell him, in a variety of ways, just how much I was coming out of my skin in anticipation of the night’s entertainment.

    Our seats were 3rd level up, in the back of the house, but we were first row, tucked right in a corner where my leaning in towards the stage would bother no one. Which was good, because I’d brought my field glasses. No joke. These are the suckers I usually bring with me to Yankee Stadium. Can you say ‘extreme close-up’?

    I found myself just enjoying seeing Stephen move around on stage among other performers. As a former techie, whether on stage or behind, there’s a wonderfully satisfying cog-and-wheel element to weaving in sync with other people, all involved in and focused on the same thing, playing a part in putting on the best damn show we can all pull off together. Generous performer that he is, the focus of TCR is rightly Stephen, even when there’s someone else on camera with him. That’s the whole conceit of the show. So watching and hearing him blend with the other actors, coming forward at moments and settling back in at others, was a strangely satisfying part of the evening for me.

    As almost everyone else who was at one of these performances reported, it did seem that Stephen was having a great time. And many of us were privy to the very specific contributions he brought to the show (oh my god – tumbling!). I’ve heard about some of the small glitches during Thursday’s performance. And at Friday’s show there were at least 2 or 3 short times that feedback or static marred the sound. I have to be honest and say that Stephen’s first sung line or two in “Sorry/Grateful” seemed a little tentative, as if he wasn’t sure what his note was or where to come in with the orchestra. But once he settled in, it was all it should be – heartfelt, earnest, wistful, sincere, befuddled, thankful. Beautiful.

    And Stephen was not the only one who had a moment of not being fully settled in. Katy Finneran, who last season appeared for maybe 20 minutes in the second act of “Promises, Promises” and gave a performance that defined the words “comedic knockout” and rightly earned her a Tony award, gave it her all here on the much-anticipated, “Flight of the Bumblebee”-style “Not Getting Married Today.” I can’t help thinking that more rehearsal and/or live performance opportunity would have helped her nail it, as I know she can. Instead, there were moments of her running out of steam at the end of lines, losing diction or volume. There’s a big difference between rehearsing that song or performing it in concert, and trying to pull it off while rolling around on the floor in a wedding dress with a veil flopped over your face.

    Considering that these performances were in reality 4 tech/dress rehearsals, i.e., the first few times that performers and orchestra actually attempted to pull it all off on stage together, I was thrilled to witness it. I keep thinking how amazing it could be if they’d gotten to perform it a few more time and had the chance to really get comfortable.

    With the camera set-up they had, I can’t imagine that they didn’t tape all 4 performances. Now I have to find a way to get through until June 15, to see how they mix and match the best scenes and moments from all of these shows.

    For this theatre geek, being able to see Stephen live, progressing from reading short stories to minimally-staged Pinter (is that redundant?) to a rehearsed, blocked, choreographed, off-book, full company performance has made me a little giddy. However, I have not been sated; I have been more thoroughly teased and tantalized! I guess I’m just the kind of girl who always wants more. (Someone needs to invent an emoticon for “grabby hands”!)

    Oh! And getting to watch Stephen do his Go-Go/Frug dance full out -twice! – was a big, red, fresh, delicious cherry!

    • Great review. It’s interesting how every performance was a bit different. Katie Finnerman must have sorted out the kinks from Friday’s show, cause on Saturday afternoon she nailed “Not Getting Married Today” and got huge applause. She sang super fast and never seemed to come up for air. I don’t know how she did it.

      Stephen was good from the start of “Sorry-Grateful” – no opening line tentativeness. They probably all got better with each performance – understandable given the lack of rehearsals. Can’t wait to the see the film!

      • Caroline – I’m so glad you got to see the show live in all its awesomeness!

        I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon on the phone with the good people at the Lincoln Center box office checking in to see if any tickets had been turned in last minute. I strongly considered one ticket that became available for $245 (Really. I did.) but I kept reminding myself that all these wonderful professional seasoned performers were only going to get better and better, and those better moments were being filmed for later enjoyment. Honestly, that was the only thing that kept me from grabbing that ticket.

    • I have to be honest and say that Stephen’s first sung line or two in “Sorry/Grateful” seemed a little tentative, as if he wasn’t sure what his note was or where to come in with the orchestra.

      I caught that little bit of tentativeness, too. He wasn’t quite together with the orchestra, and he didn’t hit the first couple of notes as confidently as an experienced (or better rehearsed) singer would have. But it was really fleeting. He was fine after those first few notes.

      I do wonder how it all would have sounded if there had been more rehearsal time. Sondheim can be difficult to sing — I’m convinced he likes torturing singers, but I’m sure he’d call it “challenging” them. I’m still amazed that it was all pulled together so well in such a short amount of time.

      • Oh, I wish everyone could have seen Saturday night’s performance! He sang wonderfully! But wait a minute… I’m betting that performance will make it into the film. Yes, definitely. It’s amazing to me that Thursday night was the first time the entire ensemble was together as a cast with no one missing. That’s usually called a dress rehearsal, but in this case, it was opening night! Imagine what that must be like. And with critics in the audience — yikes. I’m sure on Friday he was still finding his way a bit. I’m hoping that Saturday’s performance will be captured beautifully in the movie, because it deserves to be.

  15. Karenatasha says:

    I‘m sorry for my delayed report, but here it is, finally!

    Before discussing our Stephen, I’d like to propose a toast to the other Stephen: Sondheim. Too often, when someone is an acknowledged genius, we almost take it for granted. For example, if you see “Hamlet,” most of the time you’ll discuss the performances, the production, the interpretation…and forget to say, wow, that Shakespeare is amazing. I don’t want to do that here. “Company” is a gorgeous, heartfelt, and remarkable work. We have all focused on New York Times’ critic Stephen Holden’s skewering of Stephen, but not his comment on the show: “Because Robert’s type is increasingly anachronistic in today’s sexually forthright society, Mr. Harris’s performance reminds you to what degree Company — the most modern show of its time — is now a period piece.” Well, not exactly. Yes, there are specific things that point to the era when it was written. But because Company so beautifully and eloquently examines the push-pull ambivalence of love—what the lead character Robert sings as: “Someone who holds you too close, someone who cuts you too deep”—those things that are period are really less important than the eternal truths about relationships. Thank you, Mr. Sondheim, for your exquisite music and unbelievably brilliant lyrics.

    Now to Stephen: he definitely showed his chops as an actor and a dancer. He succeeded in expressing all that’s touching about the role—which is a man in a marriage that’s both loving and fraught, who drinks too much but pretends he doesn’t—and also (as would be expected) to wring every last drop of humor. Let’s just say that the man does move well. As for the singing, I’m with somuch2kno: on Friday night, it was tentative and a little rough in the beginning and smoothed out a bit as he went along. Look, realistically speaking, Stephen isn’t Brian Stokes Mitchell, the musical theater star who also made it into the Metropolitan Opera. (Then again, Brian Stokes Mitchell doesn’t have a Peabody.) But this wasn’t that kind of staging, and Stephen really did a wonderful job. What bothered me about Holden’s review in the Times is that he gave Christina Hendricks a pass for her shaky voice—but great acting—but chose not to mention anything at all about the rest of Stephen’s performance. It’s as if he just had to be snarky because Stephen was the non-theater “star” everyone came to see. By the way, with that cast, it’s interesting to me how much the focus WAS on Stephen. Really…with Hendricks out of “Mad Men,” NPH with a huge cult following, LuPone being everyone’s favorite diva, and Jon Cryer in the midst of his costar’s very public meltdown, you’d really think the interest was spread around a little!

    The song Stephen sang is an important one, though not one of the well-known showstoppers , like Neil Patrick Harris’s (Bobby’s) “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive” or Katie Finneran’s (Amy’s) tongue-tripping, super-fast “I’m Not Getting Married.” But it’s quietly magnificent, and in many ways captures the spirit of “Company.” Here are some of the lyrics:
    “You’re always sorry,
    You’re always grateful,
    You’re always wondering
    What might have been–
    Then she walks in.”

    Those words crystalize Bobby’s desires and fears, as well as Harry’s own marriage, which is why, I think, it’s so early in the show. It sets the stage. It’s almost the theme of Company.

    Leaving Stephen aside for the moment to talk about the rest of the cast and staging: Patti LuPone was a knockout singing the scathing “Ladies Who Lunch,“ which she ended by flinging a drink into the front row. Few Broadway stars can top her today. Neil Patrick Harris was extremely good, and I only wish he’d had more rehearsal, because Bobby is a tough role and his songs are killers. The two big ones that I mentioned earlier should leave the audience floored and emotionally drained. Harris isn’t quite there yet, but he will be. Hendricks, as I mentioned, delivered a really fine performance with adequate singing, and as for Finneran—well that song’s a killer. I watched a YouTube video of the original cast and the women who did it then had to sing it several times over at the taping to get it right.

    My disappointment: except for the vaudeville-like “Side by Side” (in which Stephen participated), the choreography was terrible. (So much for Holden’s praise there.) The dance with three women that took place in the Harris/Hendricks seduction scene (“Barcelona”) was really tacky and badly done. In the original production, it was choreographed by the amazing Michael Bennett (“Chorus Line”) and danced by Donna McKechnie, also of “Chorus Line.” What was done for this version couldn’t even approach that. As a dance person, even the “Side by Side” choreography seemed too basic, but I accept that because of the lack of rehearsal time. That wasn’t the case for the dancers in “Barcelona.” They weren’t the stars who had other commitments and they should have been given something better to do. Definitely the most disappointing aspect of the night.

    Now about that tumbling sequence: it was superbly done and it did fit in the number, but I am going to admit a little bit of ambivalence about it. And that’s only because it made me think of the “real” Stephen when I would have preferred to see only the character of “Harry,” which he did such a fine job of embodying so fully. I realize that most people probably wouldn’t have recognized the origins of that bit, but I’m not sure ANYONE should stop and think “Amy! Paul!” in the middle of this show. That said…oh well, it was great! Hence the ambivalence. I couldn’t help but enjoy it!

    All in all, a hearty thank you to everyone in the cast, and to the divine Mr. Sondheim, for giving us a wonderful evening. I hope it is the first of many times we get to see Stephen show his varied and tremendous talents.

    • Karenatasha says:

      One correction: I said, about the choreography, that “What was done for this version couldn’t even approach [the original.]” I should have rightly said, that I can’t IMAGINE that this could have approached the original, because of what I know of Bennett’s choreography and what I’ve heard from people who saw the first production. I unfortunately did not see the original staging and don’t want to give that impression.

      • I submitted my review to DB for “publication,” simply because that’s how I did the Pinter review and just assumed that was the protocol… Now that I’ve submitted it, I don’t want to duplicate it by posting it here, but I’m a little confused as to whether to wait for it to be “published,” or if I was simply supposed to post it here in the first place!
        Please help a relative newbie. I feel as if I am constantly doing something I’m not supposed to do… And I really want you all to see my review!
        And Karenatasha, great review!!! I have to admit, though… I thought the dancing during “Barcelona” was kind of sexy. Although I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Your review was very thoughtful. Tip of the hat!

        • Karenatasha says:

          Hey–I think that DB is going to post it, probably here, but I’m not sure. I was a little uncertain about what to do too, and had to check with her.

      • Thanks, Karenatasha. I have received the OK to place it here, but I hope it isn’t now hidden from view. The world of Stephen Colbert moves quickly! And one has to keep up the pace! (Goodness knows how he does it.)

  16. Word has come from on high to place my review right here, so without further adieu, HERE IT IS!

    “And Another Hundred People… Just Fell In Love With Stephen Colbert”

    My Review of Company at Lincoln Center

    By SW

    It’s 12:27 a.m. on what is no longer April 9, 2011, and I have just drifted home on air from seeing our hero, Stephen Colbert, perform in “Company” at Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center. True to my word, I have not read a single post on NFZ since the show opened on Thursday night. It was a challenge, but I wanted my written review to be based solely on my own impressions and not influenced by the insights of other Zoners who have also been fortunate enough to see the show. Before I begin to describe tonight’s performance, however, let me say this. One of the most satisfying aspects of seeing Stephen in this magnificent musical theater production, was watching hundreds of other people, previously uninitiated, becoming aware of the depth and range of Stephen’s abilities. As the theatergoers and glitterati proceeded out of the glass doors at the show’s end, I could palpably sense that I was among happily newborn it-getters who were surprised and delighted that even in such a large, renowned hall, they had experienced an intimacy in Stephen Colbert’s performance that they never would have expected. We, of course, have always known about the scope of his humanity and talent. But it was nice to see the rest of the world catching on.

    Now, since this is for NFZers, I’m going to start by telling you all about Stephen’s performance. More about the show as a whole, in just a bit.

    Stephen’s character, Harry, appears early in the script, so it was a wonderful treat to see the fullness of Stephen’s performance right from the opening of Act One. Harry and his wife, Sarah (wonderfully played by Martha Plimpton) invite the main character, Bobby (a charming, boyish Neil Patrick Harris), over for drinks. Harry, who claims to have stopped drinking, sneaks a sip when no one is looking and licks his fingers after preparing Bobby a drink. Stephen fleshed out the role of Harry convincingly as he parried with Sarah, daring her to try out her newly learned karate moves on him in front of Bobby. As played by Stephen, Harry was reminiscent, to me, of the husband and father you meet at a barbecue or soccer game who is struggling to retain a sense of control over his world. A gentle, friendly husband-next-door, who attempts to conceal an underlying fire within. And Stephen’s Harry had the perfect touch of sadness. Harry would pat the other male characters on the shoulder in comradeship, but simultaneously seemed more than just a little defeated, even beyond losing the karate match to Sarah, who pinned him to the floor. Stephen also had a chance to flex his physical comedy muscles, during the splashy “Side-By-Side” musical number. Zoners would immediately recognize some of Stephen’s maneuvers from his work with Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello. Stephen also had a chance to dance a bit, along with the other characters, and it’s always fun to watch Stephen let loose and dance.

    Stephen’s costume: loose plaid pants and a red cotton turtleneck, were appropriate for the character, and made him appear quite different from his usual, sartorially savvy and sophisticated persona. For those of you who have seen the wonderful rehearsal photos and video on NFZ, with Stephen’s thick wavy hair and deep smile prompting many a swoon, the difference between these images and the appearance of his character on stage was striking. (Sadly, that included a shorter ‘70s haircut, but those waves will undoubtedly wave once again in a month or two.)

    Stephen established a relationship with the Sarah character that was very believable. He and Martha Plimpton had an easy going, comfort with each other and watching the two of them together, it seemed as if they really had been married for years, knowing each other’s annoying little habits and dark secrets and yet retaining a deep fondness for each other.

    When Bobby asks Harry whether he’s glad he got married, Harry answers with the beautiful song, “Sorry, Grateful.” Stephen brought a sweet melancholy to the song, and it was lovely to hear him singing in a higher, brighter register. It would seem that Stephen has been working on blending his singing voice so that the shift in registers appeared smooth and effortless. His singing voice had just the right resonance, and he had the vocal support necessary to set his character free unselfconsciously. I’m guessing that he’s been working quite a bit on his voice lately, taking it up a level from its usual sweet, pleasantness to a much fuller, more ringing and smooth professional caliber.

    In short, Stephen managed to perform the difficult task of being both a principal player and ensemble member, at one moment drawing the audience toward him alone, and yet at other moments providing support for the other leads. Stephen is most certainly a great listener, and the same attentive concentration and curiosity he has when speaking to his guests on his own show, serves him well as an actor, as he points his concentration like an arrow toward the player on stage who requires the most focus in a given scene

    Now, for the production in general, I can only say thank goodness it will be available for all to see on film come June, because this “Company” was a magnificent display of talent that should be preserved and seen by everyone. Where to start? Perhaps the standout performance of the evening was Patti LuPone, who sang “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” and literally stopped the show. The applause that followed may have actually gone on as long as the song itself, such was the audience’s appreciation for Patti LuPone’s nuanced performance and simply gorgeous singing voice. Neil Patrick Harris was at his best in his scenes with Christina Hendricks, who played his airy, sexy stewardess-girlfriend with delicious humor. Harris’ voice was strong; yet in some ways his Bobby was played as a tabula rasa or mirror onto which his friends could project themselves. It’s unclear to me whether this was the intention of the actor or director, or simply a function of Harris’ natural stage persona, but it was appropriate to this production. I was struck by Harris’ performance of “Being Alive,” one of the most beautiful songs in the show, and its finale, as he became teary eyed with a catch in his voice, and seemed to really connect with the words on a very personal level. Katie Finneran played the character Amy, traditionally played as somewhat flighty, with less “ditz” and more bite, which was refreshing. I thought she definitely could have sacrificed some of the wonderful physicality she brought to the role, however, in favor of more precise articulation. Sondheim’s words, which are too fantastic to be missed, were unfortunately muffled at times during Finneran’s rendition of “I’m Not Getting Married.” Still, she was terrific fun to watch whenever she was on stage.

    The other cast members, including Jon Cryer, Craig Bierko, Anika Noni Rose as well as many other wonderful performers, were all equally good in their roles and seemed to have really hit their stride by Saturday night. It’s hard to believe that the whole cast only came together on Thursday night, for what must have felt to them like a tech rehearsal, only with critics, celebrities, fans and theater patrons looking on. It’s too bad that they didn’t have more time to rehearse, because I felt that what I saw this evening was a production that had finally come together and ran smoothly, with not a missed cue in sight. Fortunately, I noticed it was being filmed this evening. There were movie cameras on either side of the stage, although they did not interfere with the production in any way. I’m sure they captured much of what I saw from the second tier balcony, with my opera glasses glued to my eyes in order not to miss a single emotional beat.

    The staging was clever, with the cast sitting on furniture that was being moved by the ensemble in order to set the various scenes, and the music as played by the New York Philharmonic was flawless in every way. How wonderful it was to hear a full, live orchestra!

    Well, it is now nearly 2:00 a.m. and I am folding faster than my Playbill which sits at my side as I type.

    What a tremendous evening… the beauty of Lincoln Center on a not-too-cold New York evening in April, the sounds of the New York Philharmonic still in my ears, the many talented singers and actors, the enthusiasm of the audience who rose to their feet at the show’s conclusion, and most of all… our favorite one-man dynamo, Stephen Colbert, live and in person, showing yet another side of his amazing talent, and as always, lots and lots of heart.

    I can’t wait to see the movie! And I’m so very glad that you will get to see it too.

  17. I see, after also emailing DB my review, that they’re all just going in this comment thread. Instead of posting the entire review, I’ll just leave a link to it, and post only the pertinent bits regarding Colbert:

    The show begins at the scene of Bobby’s surprise birthday party, and immediately there is a problem: when the full cast is on-stage, who do you watch? Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert are different kinds of intensely compelling charisma, Martha Plimpton is almost domineering in her presence, Patti LuPone skulks about the edge of staging in pure black (as opposed to the 70s gaudiness of the rest of the clothing), and Company (the song) and The Little Things You Do Together are almost too distracting. It is, admittedly, an enviable position to be in.

    Thankfully, a respite comes when we shift to examining Harry (Stephen Colbert) and Sarah’s (Martha Plimpton) relationship. As with the majority of scenes, this is set up so that Bobby is the third wheel in a social setting. This allows Neil Patrick Harris to fade into the background a bit, and almost literally allow other stars to shine.

    And in this case, that is precisely what Stephen Colbert does. It is entirely possible that Colbert is the perfect performer to play Harry. Much of this scene is prop-heavy, giving Colbert the opportunity to indulge in the comic timings he has perfected on The Colbert Report. As Harry mixes Bobby a bourbon, Colbert has the chance to deliver one of the longest non-Bobby almost-monologues of the show, explaining why he no longer drinks. It’s an almost-monologue because as much as Harry would like it to be an actual monologue, his wife Sarah is determined to correct his potentially revisionist history.

    The almost-monologue stretches for several minutes, and Colbert gives a beautifully nuanced performance as a man becoming angrier and angrier – and the angrier he becomes, the tighter and more precise the drink-mixing, from slicing lemons to actually mixing the drinks, becomes.

    Of course, this is not to discount Martha Plimpton. She clearly has presence – necessary to go toe-to-toe with both Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert. Her Sarah needles Harry into the fight they both appear to be looking for, and soon enough she’s showing her karate moves (after a very deliberate removal of her shoes that Plimpton played to a tee). As widely passed around in pictures earlier this week, this scene ends with Plimpton straddling Harris straddling Colbert. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the entire karate segment of the scene is the frozen awkward positions Plimpton and Colbert (and eventually Harris) freeze into while the Vocal Minority sing.

    The karate segment gives Colbert the chance to engage in the broader physical comedy he excels at, and Plimpton more than holds her own. The two issues with this scene are simple:

    * In 1970, karate was still new, and exotic for being Oriental. This is one of the few anachronisms that specifically sets the show in time. Is it outdated? Yes. Could it have been effectively modernized? Probably not – and this is the scene with Harry and Sarah. Removing it would not only gut their story, it would disrupt the next song, and much of the heart of the play. That said, should it, or anachronisms, be removed? The New York Times reviewer made much of the fact that the play was set in 1970, as if it’s lack of modernity is an issue. But this same set-in-timeness doesn’t appear to be an issue for How to Succeed in Business, and should not be an issue here.
    * The second issue with this scene was not plot but seats. Or perhaps not seats but schedules. As has been widely reported, such an A-list cast required creativity and flexibility in rehearsing. The full cast didn’t rehearse together until Thursday (yes, opening day). This showed in the choreography of the fight – at least from 3rd tier, stage right (house left) seating, where half the scene was clearly choreography rather than karate. Somewhat oddly, the only convincing “demonstration” of Sarah’s karate skills come at the end, both the example before Bobby gets involved, and when he did. Perhaps these looked better because it was more grappling and less precision.

    Harry and Sarah’s fight complete, Sarah exits stage right and Bobby asks if it’s worth it. Here Colbert gets to show off the fact that he’s a true triple threat. Sorry-Grateful is a wistful song that does not require the powerhouse belting that some of the other songs do. Instead, it relies on the performers to express all of the conflicting emotions that rise up when “You always are/What you always were/Which has nothing to do with/All to do with her.” It’s a treat for Colbert fans accustomed to the blustering of the Colbert personae to see instead this sort of tender sincerity from the actor.

    (Shifting to the next time Colbert is clearly part of the review, to the introduction of the second act…)
    For slightly unclear reasons, the party shifts tone when one of the Vocal Minority hands Harris a cane. Suddenly the show goes a bit vaudeville, and from the vantage point of the 3rd tier, it’s interesting. The blocking has Harris climbing over the furniture and walking around the other singing actors. A red rose is on a small ledge, and as Harris walks over that ledge he smoothly palms the rose. In fact, the rose was so smoothly palmed, it was not actually clear who disappeared the rose until a bit later, when Harris showcased his magic skills, not by pulling a long magicians scarf from Jenny’s top, but by pulling the rose from the scarf. Note: see any magic show Harris decides to throw.

    The scene becomes an almost exhausting rendition of a vaudeville act, complete with straw top hats and canes, and Harris and Colbert steal the scene. In this case, Bobby is exhausted while Harry is enthused. Harris channels his slightly neurotic Dr. Horrible character, tired of the contrived enthusiasm of his friends, while Colbert engages in the sort of full-body physical comedy that his comedic partnerships with Sedaris and Dinello tends to highlight. (Plimpton, to her enduring credit, quite literally throws herself into this, as well, reenacting this particular Colbert/Sedaris moment with about the same finesse.)

    What can really be said about a scene that ends with precision hat-and-cane cakewalking, other than “you really just had to be there”? (Note that the performance was filmed for Broadway in the Theater, and should be available at local participating movie theaters June 15. Go see it.)

    The next stand-out scene, which, eventually, leads us into Barcelona, is a stand-out for the a-fore-mentioned skivvies. April (Christina Hendricks) is seeing Bobby’s place for the first time, and Bobby’s attempts to get her in bed are continually derailed by the simple fact that April is, in her own words, dumb. Here, Harris is at his How I Met Your Mother best, channeling the womanizer Barney as April examines herself in the mirrored ceilings. As this happens, the wives of the show sing about their desire to see Bobby married, and from this particular 3rd tier vantage point, it was quite amusing to watch Harry ignore his wife while slowing “eating ice cream” – a very deliberate, slow movement, although there was nothing in the bowl.

    (Skipping past stuff not Colbert-focused again…)
    The second-to-last scene brings the entire cast on stage for Bobby, Joanne (LuPone) and Larry’s (Jim Walton) scenario: drunk at a club. While Joanne, Larry, and Bobby talk, the rest of the cast, their backs to the audience, are in animated conversation. In view of 3rd tier stage right are Harry and Sarah, cuddled on a couch talking to members of the Vocal Minority. Harry is fidgeting, checking his nails, adjusting the hem of his pants over and over, while Sarah does the “distracted wife” gestures of trying to get him to stop fidgeting. David and Jenny are also visible; Jenny delightedly watching the dancers while David’s boredom is palpable. It’s a nice amount of background visual noise to the dialog happening between Joanne and Bobby, which moves into the iconic The Ladies Who Lunch.

    The Minor Details:
    Stephen Colbert turns protecting his crotch from karate punches into art – or at least high comedy.

    The Takeaway:
    Colbert is criminally under-used on The Colbert Report. It’s always worth the cost to see him stretch and exercise his talent.

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