Musicals are kind of my thing. Not only do they combine acting and singing (two of my favorite things), they’re also big and loud and full of drama and/or fun!
As with books, every so often there is a musical that comes along at just the right time in a person’s life — if I had seen the show I’m reviewing today when I was in high school, I would have enjoyed it, but would have completely missed the deeper message behind it. But before we can get to the nitty-gritty, we need to talk about the show itself, as well as its writer.
Just saying those two words (or even just the second one by itself) tends to send Theatre Nerds into giddy hysterics. Any actor/actress in the world of music and/or musical theatre has seen or listened to, if not participated in, a Sondheim play. Even the “normal people” who know next to nothing about theatre have heard this man’s music. Any of these shows ring a bell?
- West Side Story
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
- Sweeney Todd
Sondheim is best known as a composer and lyricist — he’s won countless awards, and his music is standard repertoire in high school and college vocal courses and lessons. There are some people who are simply gifted, and Steven Sondheim is one of those people. Today I wanted to talk a little bit (or possibly a lot, time shall try) about one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, Company.
Company opened on Broadway in mid-1970 and ran for 705 performances. Since then it has enjoyed a national tour, an initial stint and subsequent revival in London’s West End, a lengthy if a bit inexplicable run in Brazil, a 2006 American revival that won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and apparently Norway’s national theatre will host a run sometime in 2010.
It’s not as lauded a show as some of Sondheim’s other works, such as the ones above. But Company was a groundbreaking show. It was the first musical that dealt with what Sondheim called “adult problems.” The show focuses on divorce, homosexuality, sex, and various neuroses of the characters, all held together by Robert, the show’s protagonist.
Have I Got a Girl For You
Robert, a single man in bustling New York City, is turning 35. He is friends with five sets of couples, each of which showcases a different type of “family.” Each couple represents some of the fears that everyone worries about when it comes to marriage and relationships.
- Sarah and Harry – They seem to be pretty happily married, but she’s got food issues and he’s an alcoholic control freak. Nobody’s perfect.
- Susan and Peter – The couple who divorces partway through the show, but continues to live together because they have too many responsibilities, including several children.
- Jenny and David — A pseudo-pothead and a self-proclaimed “square.”
- Amy and Paul — A couple who have been living together for some time, but Amy is so neurotic and afraid of commitment/failure that it looks like the wedding they’ve finally planned may not happen after all
- Joanne and Larry — Joanne is as dry as the driest martini, and Larry is her latest (and nicest) husband.
Robert is the tie that binds everyone together. Company is a surprisingly cerebral play that is shown through Robert’s eyes as he endeavors to discover if being single at 35 is really what he wants. Full of wit, laugh out loud moments, and long stretches of internal wrestling, Company is a show that speaks directly to me, and to many other people as well.
Robert, like many people, is afraid of commitment. He is the quintessential playboy, dating several women simultaneously and not really paying much attention to what is beneath their exteriors. Which is totally fine with him, because he’s not interested in a serious commitment.
Enter his forceful but well-meaning friends. They all see that he spends a lot of his time alone, or with women with whom he has nothing but a shallow connection, and so they graciously spend the entire show trying to convince Robert to give up his playboy ways and settle down.
But it’s a two-way mirror. While his friends are trying to convince him that deep relationships/marriage are worthwhile, Robert is able to see that his friends’ relationships are full of problems and stress and worries — why would he want all that trouble, for seemingly no real reward?
Someone is Waiting
As I said earlier, I saw this musical at just the right time in my life. I was getting pretty heavily involved with Best Friend, and although I’ve always been committed to/in my relationships, this one was starting to move into uncomfortable territory: we had started talking about the dreaded M-word. I won’t go into all the deep reasons for my neuroses (no one wants to read about that), but suffice to say that I’m a bit commitment-shy. Especially when that commitment involves living with a stinky boy for the rest of my life.
I doubt that I would be considered part of Company‘s target audience (I’m about ten years younger than the cast of characters), but the show certainly hit home with me. Robert’s fears of sharing his life with another person mirror my own worries, and it makes me feel better to realize that I’m not alone.
Company is an excellent show, full of believable characters, a great and thought-provoking plot that is punctuated by moments of ridiculous hilarity (the absurd/physical humor is provided by Amy, and the dry wit by Joanne…two of my favorite characters), and amazing music.
John Doyle, who is famous for casting people who can not only sing and act, but play the instruments for the show, directed the 2006 revival of Company. Some of the background instrumentation was taken care of by musicians, but the actors played the majority of the music as they were acting. All of the YouTube clips in this entry are taken from that 2006 revival — if nothing else, you should watch a few minutes of each to understand the staging and instrumentation.
Raul Esparza plays Robert in the revival, and he’s such a talented actor that I can hardly tear myself away. If you want to see some fabulous, passionate acting, you would do well to get a copy of Company‘s 2006 revival, available at the PBS website.
Get it, watch it. You’ll love it — I promise.