The "Wow, oh wow!" visual and audio clarity of Blu-ray discs isn't suited just for summer special-effects blockbusters and nature documentaries. Now that Blu-ray has been declared the technological champion of high-definition home viewing, all kinds of productions are taking advantage of its next-gen potential. Even Broadway musicals are coming to Blu-ray -- and I'm not talking "movie adaptations" either, but the real deal with live audiences in a Broadway theater and performers on the stage. And I'm pleased to report that my first taste of Broadway going Blu is a high-def, high-stepping success.
Now out this week on standard DVD as well as Blu-ray, Stephen Sondheim's Tony-winning "concept musical" Company gets a welcome home-video treatment from Image Entertainment. The winner of 2007's Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Company (Wikipedia) takes a comedic and unconventional look at love and commitment in Manhattan, and features nearly a dozen classic Stephen Sondheim songs, including "Another Hundred People," "Side by Side by Side," "The Ladies Who Lunch," and the powerhouse "Being Alive."
Specifically, this is a live performance of Company's 2006 revised and updated revival, directed and choreographed by John Doyle (who also helmed the 2005 revival of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street). Headlining the cast in a star-making performance is Drama Desk Award winner Raúl Esparza as Bobby, a 35-year-old single New Yorker. Bobby is struggling to get and maintain relationships (sexual at least, more if he can figure it out) in the company of "good and crazy people," his married friends who offer advice, experience, or envy -- all via Sondheim's sophisticated, witty lyrics and intricate music, naturally. Barbara Walsh (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) takes the role of Joanne, whose signature song, "The Ladies Who Lunch," is one of those Broadway Matterhorns that really tests whether an actor's "got it." As in Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd, this production's distinctive touch comes as the actors themselves provide the orchestral accompaniment. It's an approach that takes a bit of getting used to, but it pays off with an intimacy and theatricality that works well all around. (See a video clip at PBS.org.)
The performance was captured entirely with high-def cameras, and the resulting presentation is a pristine widescreen image (1.78:1, enhanced for 16x9 monitors) featuring 1080p video and DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround audio. (Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM 2.0 audio options are available too.) So especially on a big screen with a wraparound home-theater speaker set, you can't get closer to that goosebump-making "being there" experience without having to pop $300 for tickets, cab fare, and drinks at Sardi's.
Bonus features include video interviews with director John Doyle and star Raúl Esparza, plus the featurette An Audience with Stephen Sondheim.