Tony Awards: 1971, Company

2 Apr


Company is Sondheim’s best musical.  Yes, he’s got plenty of other good, and maybe even great musicals, but none other would be so full of his strengths while avoiding all his flaws as Company.   In it we follow Bobby, a confirmed bachelor, and his relationship with his friends–all of who are coupled up.   At first he praises this arrangement, but as the show goes on we realize that his friends really are using him to a degree–he’s there to be the sounding board for all their neurotic worries, and a pressure valve for all the frustrations of being in a relationship.   Bobby in turn gets some of the benefits of relationships without having to commit to anybody.   We don’t know why he won’t commit–he has unrealistic standards, none of the relationships around him seem to be doing all that well, and people just get on each other’s nerves.

The genius that Sondheim has here is shifting the tone as the show goes on, from a comfortable arrangement, to a needy grasping relationship that easily has all the bad sides of settling down without any of the good ones.  He speaks of the singular human desire for companionship, and the idea that just having someone to share experiences with is reason enough to settle down.

One reason that Sondheim is so vaunted, despite the fact that most of his shows lose money, is because he had an answer to the rock threat that had been boondoggling Broadway since Hair.  Instead of sticking to old worn out tropes, or making bad rock musicals, you go for something more, more sophisticated than jazz, more clever than anything, something that warrants scrutiny and rewards close listening.   Company has all this.

And the songs, you’ll know most of them if you like musical theatre at all.   Being Alive was the song that is the closest to a standard, but also we’ve got Another Hundred People, Not Getting Married Today, The Ladies Who Lunch, The Little Things You Do Together, and of course the title song.  Sondheim takes his jeweler’s eye and focuses it on modern complacency, the compromises we all make, the little petty things that make up a relationship, and it’s wonderful.      Nothing else that year came close.

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