"If you're quick
for a kick
you can pick up a christening
on my knees
there's a human life at stake!"
- Book by George Furth
- Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
- Directed by Harold Prince
- Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
- Orchestra conducted by Harold Hastings
- CD produced by Thomas Z. Shepard
- Opened 4/26/70 at the Alvin Theatre in New York. 690 performances.
- Cathy Corkill
- Carol Gelfand
- Marilyn Saunders
- Dona D. Vaughn
The Vocal Minority
Robert (bonus track)
This musical was based roughly on a series of 11 short plays intended to showcase the talents of Kim Stanley but adapted into the plotless Company script instead.
The center of the show is Robert (better known as Bobby), a 35-year-old bachelor/swinger with several girlfriends and an inability to commit to anyone. His best friends are five couples who dearly love him and think he should get married. The action takes place over an unspecified time period in Bobby's thoughts and is framed by Bobby's 35th birthday party, which is celebrated (or not celebrated) several times. He forms his opinions of marriage from his observations of his friends: Sarah and Harry's rough-and-tumble (literally) relationship; the happy Susan and Peter, who are getting a divorce but planning to live together afterwards; dull swinger wannabes Jenny and David; soon-to-be-married Amy and Paul, who have lived together for years (and Amy is freaking out at the thought of marrying); and Joanne and Larry, oft-married, older, with largely separate lives. In addition, Bobby's three girlfriends chime in with their low opinions of him.
Bobby is terrified of a permanent relationship, with all the hardships that implies. He sees the rocky bits in his friends' marriages, and he doesn't want to go through the same things himself. He yearns for a woman who combines all the best qualities of the five married women--"A blue-eyed Sarah, warm Joanne, sweet Jenny, loving Susan, crazy Amy..." though of course that isn't going to happen. He does go to bed with his latest girlfriend, April, a flight attendant, who promptly falls in love with him--but he can't respond in kind. Indeed, the next morning, as she's getting ready to fly to Barcelona, he makes a half-assed and completely insincere plea for her to stay--and to his horror, she does.
Ultimately, Bobby decides that "alone is alone, not alive" and does not show up for the final birthday gathering, which implies that he's with someone. His friends hope he's found Ms. Right. As they leave, however, he emerges from the shadows and blows out the candles on his cake. What did he wish for? Did he "want something?" Did he "want something?"
- The Little Things You Do Together
- You Could Drive a Person Crazy
- Have I Got a Girl for You
- Someone is Waiting
- Another Hundred People
- Getting Married Today
- Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?
- Poor Baby
- Tick Tock
- The Ladies Who Lunch
- Being Alive
- Being Alive (sung by Larry Kert)
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Director
- Best Book
- Best Lyrics
- Best Score
- Best Actor in a Musical (Larry Kert--the only example of a replacement player being nominated for a Tony)
- Best Actress in a Musical (Susan Browning)
- Best Actress in a Musical (Elaine Stritch)
- Best Actor, Supporting or Featured (Charles Kimbrough)
- Best Actress, Supporting or Featured (Barbara Barrie)
- Best Actress, Supporting or Featured (Pamela Myers)
- Best Scenic Design
- Best Lighting Designer (Robert Ornbo)
- Best Choreographer (Michael Bennet)
- 1999 Drama Desk Special Recognition Award
This is an extraordinary work, one of the greatest modern musicals ever created, with arguably the best ensemble cast ever assembled to sing a truly legendary set of songs. There, did I cram enough superlatives into that first sentence? I'd cram an entire thesaurus's worth of them in if I could. Company is my third favorite musical of all time, being topped in my estimation only by Sweeney Todd and On the Twentieth Century. And of the three, it's the only one I can listen to over and over without becoming bored or tuning it out.
Just about the only thing I don't like on this CD is the jangly electric guitar that comes in immediately after the dial tone stops buzzing, right at the beginning. They're jarring and not typically a Sondheim sound, but they fade quickly and are soon forgotten.
No show has so many legendary performances.
There are a lot of what I fondly refer to as orgasmic musical moments on this disc. The first comes in the title song, when the chorus of "Isn't it, isn't it" grows and grows, and in the background a kettledrum is getting louder and louder, and suddenly there's a CRASH! and everyone is singing "Company! Company! Lots of company, years of company, love is company..."
Dean Jones tends to get a lot of flack, although apparently the critics liked him in the role at the time, because he's not the world's greatest singer, and because, frankly, he's kind of a peculiar Broadway leading man. He had (and continues to have) a whitebread Disney-family taint; it's hard to think of him as the swinger that Bobby is supposed to be. Having said that, I now will voice my support for his performance in Company--it came from the soul, almost literally, and is easily the most impressive mainstream (i.e., non-Christian-entertainment-oriented) thing he ever did. He promptly withdrew from Company after making the cast album; the official reason was illness, but in reality the material was too painful for him, as he was going through a divorce.
You have to see the Original Cast Album--Company video/DVD to appreciate how much of himself he put into the singing. All the other performers are reasonably loose; they smile, crack jokes, laugh, smoke. Jones, on the other hand, approaches each moment at the mike with the utmost seriousness. When he finishes "Being Alive," the others give him a hand; he looks wrung out and barely acknowledges them.
Is Bobby gay?
One of the issues surrounding this musical is whether Bobby is really gay, and that's why he can't commit to a woman. Sondheim himself has "come out" and said that no, they meant for Bobby to be straight--that his is a problem of commitment, not sexuality. Still, the song "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" sends mixed messages, on the one hand stating that "I could understand a person/if it's not a person's bag/I could understand a person/if a person was a fag" (often unofficially changed to "drag" or "hag" and then officially changed to "I could understand a person/If he said to go away/I could understand a person/If he happened to be gay"), but on the other hand referring to "persons" rather than any specific sexes.
My answer to this is that I prefer the problem of commitment rather than sexuality because if it was a problem of sexuality, the ending would be too pat and easy. "Oh, I'm really attracted to men, I'm happy now, the end." All of the carefully constructed ambiguity about Bobby's feelings would be wasted. Now, it would be interesting to perform the show where Bobby was portrayed as gay and unable to find a partner with whom he wants to spend his life, and his straight married friends--some of whom could be altered to gay couples--are trying to hook him up with other guys they know. Or, Bobby could even be a lesbian. These versions would probably require too much rewriting to be feasible, but they're interesting to think about.
Being Alive or Happily Ever After?
Another controversy is whether Hal Prince was right to insist that the pro-single "Happily Ever After" be replaced by the pro-marriage "Being Alive." I've only heard snatches of the former; the latter is an immensely powerful song, and when I was younger and less comfortable with my solo life, it used to move me to tears. Its message is "Yeah, relationships have rough spots, but their benefits outweigh their disadvantages."
For some reason, nobody ever seems to want to include the libretto with this show, which is weird because practically all of the other Sondheim discs come with librettos. I had hoped the remastered version would have one, but it doesn't. Sigh--I had to go out and buy it. Anyway, the booklet does have a cast list (superimposed over the Playbill for the show); musical numbers with all appropriate singers; a long essay about the show by Mark Kirkeby (here in better form than he was on the Camelot booklet), in which he also discusses the Dean Jones issue; a plot summary; and a decent number of large, clear, captioned photos, all taken from the legendary recording session.
Company is incomparable, amazing, brilliant. All Broadway fans should have it in their collections. It's a first choice for a Sondheim disc if you're just beginning to get into the master. Definitely get the OBC before the other versions; frankly, the American revival sucked rocks, and the London revival, while far better than the American one, simply can't compare to the original either.
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