The 1970 concept musical Company, with book by George Furth and its music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, was a brilliant work during the time in which it was originally staged, given the socioeconomic context of its creation and appearance. I make the argument that this musical retains its quality and necessary placement within the canon, though its intention can easily be misplaced.
Not containing a linear or definite plot, Company revolves around a New York bachelor named Robert (Bobby) who is turning 35. The progression in content arises from the witnessing of interactions between Robert and the five married couples that he surrounds himself with, as well as with his three girlfriends. Interpreted as a “series of vignettes”, the musical numbers and scenes within Company are given in no particular chronological order, and they discuss the self-examining process Robert undertakes regarding the concept of marriage. Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics and composition tie beautifully with what essentially amounts to a series of short stories created by Furth in order to form one of the most noticeably compelling musicals of the century.
Company provides excellent theatrical quality in its flexibility. A first examination of this text may lead one to believe that this musical is too focused. The characters within this musical are mostly upper-middle class, white New Yorkers. This is in itself could lend to interesting analysis in socioeconomic and racial ideologies of the time in which it was created; however, I believe it is necessary to understand that such an analysis would not be beneficial, as the fragmented nature of the musical does not allow for such a subject to be its centralized theme.
“What do you get”. The moment in this work where we are able to witness Robert utter these words is beyond significant, as we are exposed to the true nature of what this musical is trying to communicate. This meaning may not be lost in the attempt to recreate an aesthetic similar to that of the late 1960’s (an example being the 2011 New York Philharmonic version starring Neil Patrick Harris), but it can easily be muddled. In contrast, John Doyle’s 2006 Broadway adaptation did not place emphasis on the aesthetic presentation of the text, and benefited greatly given a modern audience.
Though I am personally drawn to this musical for other reasons, I do not feel that negates the impact and sustainability such a work could have. I was born almost a quarter of century after its creation, with no understanding of 1960’s social practices, and yet I still see potential in its fundamental process of self questioning. If we have such an ability, why not stretch and squeeze and see if we can place the concept under a different physical lens?