Original Broadway Cast, 1970 (Columbia/Sony) (5 / 5) A shocking musical when it first opened, and still an insightful if somewhat dyspeptic view of modern romantic relationships, Company explores the games, angst, loneliness, and badinage of love and marriage in an alternately brittle and heartfelt manner. In a sense, it’s a revuesical — a string of nonlinear scenes built around a single theme. When it first burst onto Broadway, the show was revolutionary: no chorus, no legs (save Donna McKechnie’s in the dance number “Tick Tock”), no salve for the tired businessman. Instead, it boasted one of Stephen Sondheim’s most brilliant scores, Jonathan Tunick’s ingeniously metallic orchestrations, Boris Aronson’s architectural sets, George Furth’s sharp book, and Hal Prince’s sparse, savvy staging. The original cast album, produced by Thomas Z. Shepard, is a marvel of clean, no-nonsense theatricality, an exemplary souvenir of a momentous turn in the history of musical theater. (Company unfortunately led to numerous second-rate imitations by Sondheim wannabes.) The highlight of the recording is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” exclaimed by Elaine Stritch in career-capping fashion. Other standouts in the cast are Pamela Myers, Beth Howland, and Teri Ralston. The album preserves the performances of central character Bobby’s songs by Dean Jones, who left the cast shortly after the show’s opening. Larry Kert took over for Jones, and his wonderful renditions can be heard on the “Original London Cast” recording of Company. Since that cast was pretty much identical to the Broadway cast, sans Jones, all the label did was take out his vocals and slap in Kert’s. If you can find the album, listen closely and you’ll hear ghosts of Jones’ voice in the background. Spooky! — Ken Bloom
Broadway Cast, 1995 (Angel) (2 / 5) The cast members here are not up to their counterparts in the company of the original production. Somehow, the performances aren’t as cynical or pointed, and that definitely includes Boyd Gaines as Bobby. Debra Monk is an exception: She isn’t quite as hard-bitten a Joanne as Elaine Stritch, but she comes close. Company is a hard show to revive because it was so much of its time, and we’re still close enough to that era to know when a production doesn’t capture the right flavor. That’s the major flaw of this recording. — K.B.
London Cast, 1996 (RCA) (2 / 5) Face it: Americans don’t do Shakespeare all that well, and the English can’t get American musical theater quite right. They’re fine with falling chandeliers and helicopters, but less well versed in U.S. attitudes, accents, and performance style. This Company is rather subdued, and none of the cast members sound really comfortable in their roles; they all seem too concerned with impersonating Americans rather than inhabiting their characters. Although Bobby is the focal point of the show, he is not the most interesting character — but at the end, he’s got the bang-up number “Being Alive,” in which he has to be really honest with himself and the audience. Adrian Lester just doesn’t make it; he’s more of a cipher who substitutes technique for honest emotion at his big moment. — K.B.