Various Artists

Company (2006 Broadway Revival Cast) (Nonesuch Records)

In a city plagued with people scrimping for nerd credibility, you'd assume Stephen Sondheim's musical theater oeuvre clogs many an iPod's "most recently played" list. Alas. Take, for example, the must-have soundtrack to the production of Sondheim's Company — where director John Doyle has his performers act as both cast and orchestra, playing instruments on stage as they sing, to tremendous effect.

The musical is a cynical tale of a single guy, Bobby, on his 35th birthday, who is surrounded by his drunk, high, horny, lonely, adulterous, and loving married friends. One of the first of Sondheim's groundbreaking '70s shows, this streamlined recording almost matches the grand 1970 original — a masterpiece difficult to top. Heather Laws' comically hysterical version of the rapid-fire "Getting Married Today" trumps Beth Howland's faultless original. And while Barbara Walsh makes a sleek Joanne, even God would have trouble one-upping the pre-Alcoholics Anonymous Elaine Stritch and her painfully perfect "The Ladies Who Lunch." But the real reason to get this disc is Raúl Esparza. In the role of Bobby, and especially in his handling of "Bring Alive," he comes off like the frustrated lonely hearts we all know, who lose out on love by losing sight of his obvious options. Much like Doyle's reinvention of Company, he is just that good. Brock Keeling

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