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Stephen Colbert, Martha Plimpton and Neil Patrick Harris appear in a scene from Company. - Provided courtesy of NYPhil.org

Stephen Colbert talks 'Company,' says he thought he'd be a theater actor

06/15/2011 by Olivia Allin

Stephen Colbert revealed in a recent interview that he always imagined he would be a theater actor and was overjoyed to appear in Stephen Sondheim's production of "Company."

"I imagined myself living in New York in some sort of open, large but sparse studio apartment with a lot of blond wood and a futon on the floor and a bubbling samovar of tea in the background and a big beard," Colbert told NPR. "Living alone but with my beard - and doing theater, that's what I thought my life would be. It has not been - and I love what I do - but to be asked to do this and then to accept the challenge of it... but to sing Sondheim is a completely different beast."

At Sunday's Tony Awards, the cast of "Company," which also includes Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men," Jon Cryer from "Two and a Half Men," actress Martha Plimpton and Broadway star Patti LuPone, performed numbers from the show.

The Tony-winning musical tells of the lives of five couples and their friend Robert, the perpetual bachelor, who is played by Harris. The actor showcased his singing chops in the musical "Rent," which he also directed in Los Angeles last year. Colbert, known for his satirical and political Comedy Central talk show "The Colbert Report," played his friend Harry, who has a drinking problem.

Colbert, who studied theater at Northwestern University, accepted the role in "Company" when Sondheim personally invited him.

"[He said that] against his instincts, he had a good time on my show and would I consider playing Harry in Company?" Colbert said. "And he ended the letter with the sentence 'You have a perfect voice for musical theater.' And I read it to my wife and she said, 'Boy, you have to do this. No one, let alone Stephen Sondheim is going to ask you to do Sondheim.' And I said, 'You're right, I have to do it.'"

Colbert chose not to mention his role in "Company" on his Comedy Central show, in part because he plays a satirical conservative host and didn't want it to seem like a "fake" endorsement, but also because he wasn't sure he could pull off the theatrical performance.

"I had no idea if I wanted anyone to know I was doing it, because I knew how hard it was going to be," Colbert said. "I was afraid I would suck. I don't mind failing so much, but I am a perfectionist... If you're a perfectionist and you know you're about to do something at which you cannot be perfect, then that is daunting."

Aside from his Comedy Central hosting gig, Colbert starred and co-wrote the network's comedy series "Strangers with Candy" and appeared in the films "The Love Guru" and "Monsters vs. Aliens." He also put out a Christmas album in 2008 called, "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!"

The production was semi-staged at New York's Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic and a video recording of the show will be screened in movie theaters around the country on June 15, 16, 19 and 21.

Watch a trailer for "Company" below.

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