Company – Original Broadway Cast 1970
Company has no plot, so any synopsis must be, like the show itself, a state of mind. The entire thing takes place – in a moment? in a year? – in the thoughts of Robert (Dean Jones), who is about to walk in on a “surprise” party in honor of his 35th birthday. Robert’s a bachelor, he seems pretty normal, he has a nice apartment, and he goes to bed with a lot of women. He’s not gay, although some students of the show have their doubts, and that’s all we’ll ever know about him, except that his only friends – the girlfriends plainly don’t count – are five married couples, who dote on him and think he should be married, too – “Company.” Couple by couple, we begin to see these friends up close, Sarah and Harry (Barbara Barrie and Charles Kimbrough – of Murphy Brown fame) are obsessively dieting/not drinking, except they aren’t, and the tension comes out in a little karate demonstration – “The Little Things You Do Together.” Robert’s shaken up by this, and he can’t help asking Harry whether he doesn’t regret getting married. Harry’s answer: he’s Sorry-Grateful, as the other husbands concur, Susan and Peter (Merle Louise and John Cunningham) seem the happiest and best-adjusted of all – maybe that’s because they’ve decided to get a divorce. Of course, they’ll still live together. Jenny and David (Teri Ralston and George Coe) are worried that they’re old and boring, so Robert offers them an illegal cigarette. In this altered state, Robert claims he wants to get married, he just hasn’t met the right person, which is contradicted by a trio of his girlfriends (Donna McKechnie, Pamela Myers, Susan Browning) in the Rodgers-and-Hart-felt “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” Robert’s friends for their part can’t decide whether he should share their “misery,” or hold onto his freedom at all costs, so they live through him vicariously, setting him up with women they can’t have – “Have I Got a Girl for You.” In the abstract, at least, Robert can imagine the woman of his dreams – she’s an amalgamation of his friends’ wives – “Someone Is Waiting.” As he lists her attributes, we realize no such person could possibly exist. Which causes him to reflect on the single women he actually does know: April (Browning), the stewardess, who is sweet but dumb; Kathy (McKechnie), who’s engaged and moving to Vermont; and Marta (Myers), a kooky intellectual who scares Robert but plainly has the big picture in focus – “Another Hundred People.” Amy and Paul (Beth Howland and Steve Elmore), an interfaith couple who have lived together for years, are finally “Getting Married Today.” That is, if Amy doesn’t commit suicide first. In the midst of all this, Robert finds himself proposing to her. The moment passes, the wedding goes forward, the curtain comes down. The start of Act II finds us back at the birthday party – which hasn’t really happened yet – with Robert and the married couples “Side by Side by Side.” We begin to wonder, uncomfortably, how these people would cope if Robert actually did marry someone – and his married friends are thinking the same thing – “What Would We Do without You?” In fact, while the wives want Robert married, they have also decided that no woman is good enough for him – “Poor Baby.” Lonely Robert may be, but he doesn’t lack for companionship: we see him in bed with April (“Tick-Tock”), but in lieu of a sex scene, we get a show-stoppingly sexy dance (dream on, folks) from McKechnie. In the afterglow, Robert realizes April is getting up and leaving for Barcelona (and Madrid). For a moment, Robert is on the brink of some sort of commitment. The moment passes. Finally, he finds himself in some Eurotrashy nightclub with his wealthy older friends Joanne and Larry (Elaine Stritch and Charles Braswell). Joanne drinks while Larry dances with younger women, but Larry clearly loves her, and most of her sarcasm is directed at women like herself – “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Drunk but lucid, Joanne propositions Robert, saying she’ll take care of him, which prompts Robert to ask, “But who would I take care of?” This is his moment of self-truth (“Being Alive”), in which he, well, commits to commit. . . . Or doesn’t. Until well into the Boston tryout, Company ended with another song, “Happily Ever After,” in which Robert reaches exactly the opposite conclusion, deciding he’s better off on his own. Prince would not have it. Sondheim, for his part, has called the “Being Alive” ending “a cop-out.” You decide. Anyway, the birthday party is still waiting. And waiting. At last, his friends realize he’s not coming home, which holds out the hope that he’s met Ms. Right. As they depart, Robert emerges from the shadows, blows out the candles, and maybe makes a wish. For what?
– Marc Kirkeby
Robert: Dean Jones Sarah: Barbara Barrie Harry: Charles Kimbrough Susan: Merle Louise Peter: John Cunningham Jenny: Teri Ralston David: George Coe Amy: Beth Howland Paul: Steve Elmore Joanne: Elaine Stritch Larry: Charles Braswell Marta: Pamela Myers Kathy: Donna McKechnie April: Susan Browning The Vocal Minority: Cathy Corkill, Carol Gelfand, Marilyn Saunders, Donna D. Vaughn