Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Musical Spotlight: Company

I haven't done one of these in ages, so I decided to focus on a musical I was sure I had covered before, mostly because it's one of my very, very favorite musicals with so many incredible songs. This musical is Stephen Sondheim's Company, first on Broadway in 1970. My favorite recording was released on DVD and is the one I'll be using clips from: the 2006 Broadway revival with Raul Esparza as the central character, Bobby. (There's also a 2011 cast starring Neil Patrick Harris that has been released on DVD, but if you're new to the play, avoid the urge to watch that star-studded cast first. The singing and acting are both sub-par when compared to the incredible work of the 2006 performers.)

Company is a concept musical. Rather than following a strictly linear plot, it features a series of vignettes and songs based around a concept - in this case, the concept of relationships and marriage. The central character is Bobby, a single man whose friends are all married and he's beginning to wonder if he's ready to pursue that himself.

So, here are my very favorite songs from the show, in the order in which they appear.

1. Company
The title song is also the opening number. It sets the tone for the show's theme (what does it mean to share your life with other people?) and introduces us to Bobby and his friends. Bobby is the most popular party guest, and as we learn throughout the rest of the musical, this is largely because he's a bit of a chameleon, willing to shift himself to be entertaining and charming to the people he's with without ever truly revealing anything of himself. Musically, this song always feels very warm to me... it feels like company and companionship and feeling comfortable with other people and liking to have them around.

Late nights, quick bites, party games,
Deep talks, long walks, telephone calls.
Thoughts shared, souls bared, private names,
All those photos up on the walls

2. Getting Married Today
This song gets my vote for being the most difficult song to sing in all of musical theaterdom, and though there are many videos of various celebrities performing it on YouTube (Madeline Kahn and Carol Burnett both are entertaining), very few of them keep to the original tempo... which is the one in this video. Kudos to Heather Laws. The character is Amy, who is supposed to get married today but is freaking out a little bit. Or, well, maybe more than a little bit. The song delivers its lyrics at an incredible pace, but if you can manage to process the lyrics as they're sung, they're very funny and very clever, in true Sondheim fashion.

Look, I didn't wanna have to tell you, but I may be coming 
Down with Hepatitis, and I think I'm gonna faint, 
So if you wanna see me faint, I'll do it happily,
But wouldn't it be funnier to go and watch a funeral?

3. Marry Me a Little
This song was written for the show, removed from the show, and then added back in, and boy, am I glad it's back in the show. It's the Act I closer, and it's an incredible song about half-commitment (especially when contrasted with my #5, Being Alive). Bobby likes the romantic ideal of marriage, but it's clear that he expects it to have little to no bearing on how his life functions as it is.

We'll look not too deep, we'll go not too far
We won't have to give up a thing, we'll stay as we are

4. The Ladies Who Lunch
I actually prefer the 2011 cast version of this song. Barbara Walsh is phenomenal in the 2006 cast, but Patti LuPone, an actress I generally don't like at all, just knocks it out of the park. This character is Joanne, cynical and jaded and on her third husband. At this point in the show she and Bobby are out drinking, when she launches into this angry, sad tirade which has become one of Sondheim's most famous numbers ever.

And here's to the girls who just watch--
Aren't they the best?
When they get depressed,
It's a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.

5. Being Alive
And this song.

Where to begin?

This song is easily one of my top 5 showtunes of all time. (Maybe even top 4. I was trying to think what would go above it and I could only think of 3 obvious ones.)

Bobby has seen his friends' marriages, many of which seem to be broken and dysfunctional, and he doesn't want to open himself up to that kind of hurt. As evidenced in Marry Me a Little, he doesn't want to open himself up too deeply at all, because it hurts. Here, in the closing number of the show, he works through this on his own, lists all the things that make relationships painful and unpleasant... and then it morphs into him realizing that he really wants something, anything, to touch him that deeply, to force him to be more than he is, to push him to care about anything. I am in love with Raul Esparza's version of this, where you can see him resisting, resisting, resisting the idea... and then, being totally open and honest with himself for the very first time, admitting that the pain might be worth it.

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive.

Even if you are not a musical fan, I highly suggest you check this show out. (The 2006 cast is available on Netflix Instant.) It's a thought-provoking show with fascinating, intelligent songs, a clever book, and, with this particular cast anyway, some absolutely incredible acting. It's my very favorite Stephen Sondheim musical and one of my top 5 musicals, period. It's about time I gave it its due on my blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment