Listening to Company in 2019
Yesterday, the original cast album for the 2018 (and, I guess, current) production of Company was released digitally. The production is currently running in London and is most notable because of its gender swapping of the lead character. Rather than a 35-year-old Bobby (think Raul Esparza in the 2007 production or Larry Kert in the 1970 production), the lead role is played by Rosalie Craig. The protagonist’s name was simply changed to “Bobbie.”
Before I go on, I should say that Company is hands down my favorite musical. I saw a concert version of the show years and years ago — so many years ago that I the only things I remember are (1) I was in New York and (2) I was with my friend Diana. I saw a horrible production of the show at Signature Theatre in Virginia, a show I took my then-boyfriend (now husband, but I’ll get to that) to see in an effort to share my absolute love of the show with him. It did not work. The next weekend, we watched the John Doyle production of the show, a production that has been filmed and preserved and masterfully performed. This is my favorite record of the show. (Which is a controversial opinion, I know.) And I’ve seen them all: D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about the original cast album, the weird concert production with Neil Patrick Harris, the production I put on in the shower every the show gets stuck in my head.
But until this week, I never saw myself in that lead role. I never really thought about what this musical really means.
It’s really weird to listen to this musical as a married person.
Growing up, I had zero aspirations to be married. My parents met in high school, got married shortly after their 21st birthdays, and have been together ever since. But the message growing up was always the same: wait. So I did. I purposefully didn’t date at all in grad school, I was non-committal through my early 20s, and I kept my now husband at an arm’s length for as long as he’d tolerate. (That lasted a week.) When I finally did agree to get married (in October), I was a full decade older than my parents were.
I don’t know if it was the gender swapping or the timing of my listen, but listening to this musical as a married person totally blew my mind. Every marriage-resistant feeling I’ve ever had came flooding right back. The second half of “Have I Got a Guy for You”? Where they ask what you want to get married for? Daggers daggers in my heart. The lyrics to “The Little Things You Do Together”? Too close to home, my friend. Too close to home.
But I didn’t just see myself in the couples. Oh no. Every single one of Bobbie’s lyrics took on new meaning. I too want someone to hold me too close, to hurt me too deep. But guess what; I have that someone. And that someone also leaves their chest hair all over the apartment.
I don’t think Stephen Sondheim talked to a single woman during this rewrite.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that this revival centers on a woman. But there are some really lazy rewrites in this revival, mostly pertaining to Bobbie’s gender. Other than some real forced edits to “Getting Married Today” (which I’ll address in the next section), the most cringe-worthy instance of this was in the rewrite to “Poor Baby.” There are three grown men lamenting to their wives that their friend Bobbie isn’t dating anyone seriously. They’re calling her “baby.” Um, ladies? He may have ulterior motives. Which, if we’re going that route, let’s really go that route. But truly I don’t think Sondheim has any idea how skeevy this whole song sounds in a male voice.
I both love and hate the rewrites to “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” I love love love that they acknowledge that Bobbie is phenomenal in bed. Sondheim rearranged that lyric so that “if she wasn’t good in bed” sits in the middle of the verse, giving the men the opportunity to talk-sing “She’s good.”/”No shit.” immediately after. But constant repetition of the word “chick” just to fit the meter — and the faux ad libbed jabs at Bobbie between tight three part harmonies (“You feminist!” “That time of the month!”) ring so so false it’s embarrassing.
The orchestrations are also painfully thin, but that’s another blog post altogether.
What year is it?
They mention texting in “Another Hundred People,” so presumably 2018. But “Getting Married Today” feels like a sprint into gay marriage being legal in New York, so presumably 2011. But in “Barcelona,” Bobbie calls a one night stand “an overnight,” so 1970? And in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “feminist” is the rudest thing they could think to call her, so 4chan? I honestly have no idea. And I don’t think Sondheim knows either.
It’s not queer enough.
I told you I’d get to “Getting Married Today,” a patter song sung so slowly that even I can hit every word. The famously living in sin couple Paul and Amy (who you might remember from the warm orange juice fight of 1970) are rewritten to be Paul and Jaime, a gay couple who are finally getting married. (Which, why? Does this musical take place in 2011? Seriously, what year is it?) Here’s my question: why write this couple as Paul and Jaime when the original pairing (presumably heterosexual, but non committal) is so much more interesting in the grand scheme of the musical? Why can’t Bobbie — our Bobbie! — be queer?
Let’s look at the scene that immediately follows “Getting Married Today.”
Amy: What did I just do?
Bobby: You did what you had to do, I guess. If it was right, you would have gone through with it. That’s what I think anyway. Amy. Marry me.
Bobby: Marry me?
Bobby: You said it before. We’re just alike. Why don’t we, Amy?
Now substitute in “Bobbie” for “Bobby” and you have a wonderfully nuanced, painfully complex queer conundrum that’s completely devoid of the obvious.
And then there’s that final scene of the musical, the one between Bobbie and Joanne. The scene I always call “When are we gonna make it?” I asked my friend Ramona if the scene remained in tact in the London production.
Here’s that scene, which I think would have been incredible between Joanne and Bobbie.
Bobby: I don’t know what to do with the fact that you only drink with me. That is not unflattering, I guess. No. I hope I don’t depress you. We have good times and it’s a hoot, yeah?
Bobby: Whatever you say. What are you looking at Joanne? It’s my charisma, huh? Well, stop looking at my charisma.
Joanne: When are we gonna make it?
Bobby: I beg your pardon?
Joanne: When. Are we. Going to make it?
Bobby: What’s wrong with now?
Joanne: There’s my place. It’s free tomorrow after two. Larry goes to his gym and then right to the office. Don’t talk. Don’t do your folksy routine with me. […]