Recent Posts

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Its official, the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company will close on Sunday, July 1. Just two days ago, Company won the Tony Award for best revival of a musical and upon closing, it will have played 34 previews and 247 regular performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Company first premiered in 1970 and was arguably a revolutionary work as it not only was one of the first musicals to deal with adult themes but is a concept musical comprised of short vignettes vs. most book musicals which follow a clearly delineated plot. Bobby, the main character is the only character who appears in each of the six vignettes and binds the story together.

What Company is not, is a two hour, optimistic, joyful, superficial musical with a happy ending. Instead, the show speaks volumes of insecurity, solitude, love, marriage (a common Sondheim topic), metropolitan living and the potential idea of uncertain sexuality. Sondheim's work is also unique in that unlike his predecessors, his music tends to comment more upon the characters (in the moment) instead of the song furthering the plot. A Sondheim song can also immediately get to the essence of a character without ever blatantly explaining its intention to their audience.

The opening sequence of Company emphasizes Bobby's position in the musical: that he is a bachelor living in Manhattan with married friends and he is alone. It emphasizes the monotonous, impersonal city life where nobody seems to directly interact with another person. Musically, the vamped slurred tenuto-stacatto form represents a busy signal which sets the tempo of the opening number. Lyrically, "phone rings/door chimes/in comes company" and the "Bobby baby/Bobby Bubbi/Roby" emphasizes this almost impersonal yet affectionate reference to Bobby while underscoring the title song. This opening mood setting number recurs again in "Another Hundred People" as the entire song is about the impersonal, urban modernism of living in Manhattan. In its own form, "Another Hundred People" connotes the difficulty of living in a "city of strangers/[who] meet at parties through the friends of friends who they never know" where you cannot easily make interpersonal relationships in an increasingly dehumanized society. It emphasizes to Bobby that everyone seems to be floating around in a lonely crowd where everyone is alone.

When Company premiered in 1970, it was an era when marriage was not necessary for either party to survive in the world. Until that time, marriage was seen as a necessity not only to procreate, but for emotional and economic reasons. Bobby represents the first of his generation who is not able to choose the expected lifestyle of someone his age. He is also very torn and confused as to what he wants which is explained in "Sorry/Grateful."

"Sorry/Grateful" is the fourth song in Company where Bobby's friends' advice and comments almost become his own thoughts. The song reflects the confusion and and reality of who Bobby is: he has problems understanding being something and becoming someone. He is very much a one dimensional character who cannot look too deeply into his own self for fear of what he will find. How can Bobby possibly become something else when he does not know what he even is? Bobby is constantly looking at his own life from afar without ever really commenting upon it.

It isn't until "Being Alive" (the show's closing number) when Bobby finally establishes a point of view and truly becomes a character vs. a narrator. Hearing Bobby finally have a point of view and this epiphany was an exciting and thrilling breakthrough (but did it happen too soon?). It was almost a relief waiting for Bobby to discover himself -- he was as much a viewer looking through the window of his life as we the audience. Having an opinion was something we as the audience desperately wanted for him. Unfortunately, Sondheim was never satisfied with the ending of Company. He saw "Being Alive" as a "cop out" to the show's finale. Initially he had written "Happily Ever After" but it was so dark and painted such a depressing stance on being alone that it was cut during its out-of-town-tryout in Boston. Directors for subsequent revivals of the musical didn't like the idea of Bobby as a one-dimensional character through 95% of the show either, so the once axed song "Marry Me A Little" was re-inserted to the end of Act I in an attempt to make Bobby a little more humane.

As times changed, producers, directors and critics chose to view Company and more specifically, the character of Bobby to possibly reflect homosexuality -- a topic that was more openly discussed. There has been great debate over the years as to whether its appropriate to inject a gay sensibility into the show. If one were to look hard enough, there might be some homosexual overtones or a confusion of sexual identity, but in what aspects? Bobby can't fall in love (or commit seriously to any woman), can't reconcile what he wants emotionally from life, but that I think is digging rather deep to see some kind of homosexual overtone. In 1970, it might have been more unusual to see a single 35 year old of either gender, but post 1990, is that so unusual? For the record, Sondheim has claimed that he never wrote Bobby as a gay character.

To claim that Company is multi-dimensional is probably an understatement. It also proves that it truly was a ground-breaking musical in its time. Back in "the day" (the 1970s) Company offered something new (structurally and stylistically) to theatre going audiences which made musical theatre more intriguing. Company holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first Sondheim shows that was so compelling to me that learning as much as I could about the show (and Sondheim) wasn't good enough. Company has some obvious meat that makes deconstructing both music and lyrics thoroughly riveting to any Sondheim aficionado.

* * *

As I was inspired to write about Company, one of my favorite musicals, I found myself referring to a paper I wrote in college of the "Evolution of the Sondheim Style"...a good deal of this post comes from said paper, nonetheless a very helpful device for me. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails