Criterion’s Original Cast Album: Company Documentary Release Includes New Feature Length Sondheim Commentary

Film distributor The Criterion Collection is preparing new DVD and Blu-ray releases of D.A. Pennebaker’s long out-of-print 1970 documentary Original Cast Album: Company, which documents the studio sessions for the original Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company. The special edition release is set for August 17.

Originally planned as the first in an ultimately unrealized series of documentary films on original cast album recording sessions, Original Cast Album: Company offers a candid look at such theatre luminaries as Sondheim, Hal Prince, Elaine Stritch, Dean Jones, Donna McKechnie, Barbara Barrie, Charles Kimbrough, Merle Louise, and Pamela Myers. The film famously gets its unplanned dramatic climax as the session stretches on to the wee hours of the morning, with Elaine Stritch struggling against nerves, exhaustion, and an ornery album producer to record what would become her signature tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

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The film has received a restored 4k digital transfer, supervised by Chris Hegedus and Nate Pennebaker, which will serve as the source for both the Blu-ray and DVD releases. Along with the film, the discs will include a number of newly produced bonus features, including a feature length audio commentary by Sondheim; a conversation between Sondheim, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and critic Frank Rich; an interview with Tunick led by author and theatre historian Ted Chapin, and never-before-heard audio excerpts from a 2000 interview with Stritch and Hal Prince, along with an audio commentary with Pennebaker, Stritch, and Prince created for the film’s 2001 DVD release.

The disc will also include Original Cast Album: Co-Op, the 2019 episode of Documentary Now! that parodied Pennebaker’s film. WIth performances from John Mulaney, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Richard Kind, Alex Brightman, Paula Pell, and more, the episode sees the cast of a fictional musical gathering to record its cast album just after learning that its run has been prematurely cut short following dismal reviews. A 2020 reunion of the cast and crew for this episode will be included as well.

Company centers on the perpetually single Bobby on his 35th birthday and his married friends, all of whom seem to want him to settle down. The Best Musical Tony Award-winning work was one of the first so-called “concept” musicals to be a big success on Broadway, in that it lacked a linear plot in favor of a collection of thematically linked vignettes.

With a score introducing such tunes as “Sorry-Grateful,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Another Hundred People,” “Barcelona,” and “Being Alive,” Company also firmly established Sondheim as a musical theatre powerhouse. The musical was the first collaboration between Sondheim and director Hal Prince, a partnership that would go on to produce a string of landmark musicals throughout the 1970s that many credit with changing the art form, including A Little Night Music, Follies, and Sweeney Todd.

The musical has continued to be a favorite among theatre fans, receiving Broadway revivals in 1995 and 2006. A new revival, re-imagined by director Marianne Elliott to center around a female protagonist, played London’s West End in 2018 and was in previews for its Broadway transfer when health restrictions shut Broadway down last year. The production, starring Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone, is set to resume performances December 20 ahead of a January 9, 2022, Broadway opening night.

Original Cast Album: Company is currently available to stream on The Criterion Channel.