A After a six-week trial in Boston and a week of previews, Stephen Sondheim's company opened on Broadway in April 1970. MayAfter the opening night nerves, another hurdle came the following weekend: the original recording of the cast of the musical. Rather than spending Sunday recovering, the cast and musicians came together for a tense 3-hour studio session to create the album.
The shows change from night to night, even from morning to night; part of the magic of the theater lies in the chemistry of the two or three hours you spend in this special company of audiences and performers. But the musical comedy album was - and in many cases still is despite the rise of NT Live - his testament. With the stakes so high, it is surprising that the filmmaker DA Pennebaker and his team have been cleared through the door of the Columbia 30t studioh Street to make a documentary about the recording.
The film The resulting Original Cast Album: Company - newly released on Blu-ray - is enlightening in many ways, not just that making a musical in '70s New York really meant ties, sideburns, polo collars and glasses. of sunshine. Pennebaker's nimble camera work takes us closer to musicians - from flute to trumpet to violin to triangle while recording Another Hundred People, from pipe-smoking guitarist to singer queer. The musicians, of course, are usually buried away from a theater audience and the performers themselves some distance away even from the front rows. But Pennebaker's closeness to the cast is alarming - his camera goes "up and down the wazoo," as Elaine Stritch later put it. It captures the glow in the eyel of Stritch, the slightest smile forming on his lips, and practically documents Dean Jones' dental work in an extreme close-up as he gives the 11 o'clock issue Being Alive. It might as well be renamed Being Uvula.
Pennebaker wisely gives this number, among other things, some room to breathe so we can savor them. Sondheim's crisp words. And because Company is a virtually plotless musical, its numbers are freed from storytelling and instead focus on the messy emotions of life, the songs can be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with the central singleton character Bobby and relationships. that revolve around him.
It is fascinating to see the creation of a work of art of its own, distinct from the musical and with extended instrumentation. You can see the actors delivering the songs toyears to a certain extent - keeping the tics they maybe used on stage - but out of necessity, as one song goes, they're literally lined up side by side on their desks. The double meaning of "company" - as a bunch of creatives doing the show, not just the friends in the story - comes to life when we see the singers crowding around the microphones, the orchestra in front of the crowd. 'them.
It's also intriguing to see the shared attention between playing for Pennebaker's camera (carried, Sondheim recalls, "like a parrot "on his shoulder) and play for the audio recording. The studio offers its own set design - a symphony of cables, mics and dials - and we see masters at work around the edges. There's Sondheim - frowning, arms crossed, scribbling notes, rubbing his eyes often - sharing ideas with producer Hal Prince and kindly givingprecise instructions to the actors, for example how, in a song, an F sharp gradually turned into an A in the performance and needs to be corrected. It's also telling which of the creatives clearly perform well for the camera and which are the most understated.
The attention to detail is so evident throughout. Along the process it is ironically humorous to hear the seemingly un-ironic announcement of a new cover of a song: "You could Drive a Person Crazy - take 10!" Everyone strives to give the best version of each song, everyone gets more and more tired as words like "final" and "permanent" are spoken with anxiety. Beth Howland, browsing the patter song Getting Married Today, barely has time to blink, let alone catch her breath. In the film, we take a journey through the songsns with the actors - Dean Jones "practically sweats the notes" in Sondheim's words, as it gives what the songwriter and lyricist thinks is the best version of Being Alive. Tension builds throughout the day, peaking in the early hours of the morning when Stritch shows up to do The Ladies Who Lunch. Sondheim explained that she had to record the song - which would become one of her signature numbers - much earlier today, but that she switched places with Jones so he could do Being. Alive earlier.
By the time Stritch sings, she is exhausted, her voice betraying the brandy sips of the day. As she takes after take - in a room almost entirely filled with men, waiting for that last song to be over - the frustration of record producer Thomas Shepard is evident and even Stritch joins the chorus of disapproval in shouting “Oh shut up! "to itself when listening to a reading. It's scary to watch but, when she returns a few mornings later for a new attempt, we see her nail him almost for the first time. The lines she sings sound all the more glorious for the ease we see on her face. In the film, our relationship with the songs a And Their Singers is totally different from watching a live broadcast or listening to the album - the conquests of the singers of each song become stories.
There are some great documentaries on Sondheim - The best thing that could have happened, about how Merrily We Roll Along bombed Broadway , is a fascinating tale of the aftermath of failure. The company would run for nearly 700 additional performances after the inrecording of its OCR, but the longevity of the musical was by no means guaranteed, which gives the documentary its edge. Pennebaker's film, lasting just under an hour, is revealing to get under the skin of the main actors. And the director's opening reveal will infuriate musical theater nerds as we hear that he was the pilot of a whole slew of original cast recordings that were never made. The following year there may have been an accompanying film about the follies of Sondheim.