“Company:” An Entertaining Look at Marriages and Being Alive


Cover for “Company” production starring Neil Patrick Harris. Photo courtesy of IMDB

     Last year, I covered two musicals by Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd  and Assassins. Another one that was on my list of musicals to listen to (and/or watch if I can find it on YouTube) was 1970’s Company. After some digging, I found the New York Philharmonic concert starring Neil Patrick Harris. When I first watched it, I initially didn’t like it because I couldn’t follow the story, even though I liked the music. At the start of this school year, I decided to rewatch it and finally got the musical. The music was still good, but I finally understood it.

     Company follows Robert, affectionately called “Bobby” by his friends, a 35-year-old bachelor and the only single friend in his social circle. Bobby is an interesting character because he is scared of being alone, but doesn’t want marriage. The lack of plot, which I initially counted against the musical, actually benefits it. We see a series of small vignettes of Bobby’s friendship with the other married couples, including the good and bad between them. One couple, Harry and Sarah, are constantly bickering about Sarah’s dieting and Harry’s drinking. But Paul and Amy, a younger couple, are soulmates, and while Amy has a breakdown over the idea of marriage, she and Paul discuss her fears and decide to marry anyway. The entire time, you see Bobby struggle with his bachelorship and decide between wanting to commit to relationships or disregarding the idea, constantly wondering, “What do you get?”

     While the story is unremarkable by itself, it’s the music that carries it. Sondheim once again shows his prowess as a lyricist and making the audience feel through the songs. Harry’s song, “Sorry-grateful” is a perfect example of.

Martha Plimpton as Sarah, Stephen Colbert as Harry, and Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby during “Company”
Courtesy of Getty Images

Through the song, he lists the pros and cons of marriage including one of the most powerful lyrics of the whole show with “You’re scared she’s starting to drift away and scared she’ll stay.” That lyric actually forced me to pause the musical and think about it because it’s such a thought provoking stance on relationships. Being single is just as scary as an actual relationship. But other songs are more comical in tone such as Amy’s “Not Getting Married Today.” This song is what’s known as a “patter song” and Amy is singing so fast about all the reasons why she has cold feet. But none of the reasons are about her husband, Paul. It’s an anxiety attack put to music and is very entertaining. The show’s finale is the one that got me the most when I rewatched the musical and the song I keep coming back to because of the meaning and lyrics.

     At the end of the show, Bobby finally reaches his breaking point in terms of relationships. He launches into “Being Alive,” one of, if not the most, famous songs in Sondheim’s catalog. The song starts cynically as Bobby lists all the cons of marriage like having someone sit in his chair or having to share with someone. He even compares it to Hell. But after thinking about his friends and what they said, including, “You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone,” or “Hey, buddy, don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect. The only thing to be afraid of really is that it won’t be,” and finally, while it’s short, it’s impactful to the song and the show as a whole: “It’s much better living it than looking at it, Robert.” After that, Bobby repeats the first verse all over again, with a very subtle change. Bobby goes from critiquing love by saying “someone” to accepting his wants by saying “somebody,” effectively going from a critique to a plea. After that minor shift, everything takes on a different meaning. His lyric about “being put through Hell” turns into a want as well as having a person to hold him and someone to share his life with. Through that song, Bobby learns his lesson and how having someone to love is what makes you alive. It’s a beautiful song that changes just a little bit each time it’s performed and that adds to the beauty of the song. 

     Company is a funny musical that makes you look at life and think about love. You either get what the musical is about, or you don’t and that’s okay. I didn’t understand it until after seeing my friends be in and out of relationships. It’s not your usual coming of age/love story, but if you’re on the look for a new musical or need a good show to listen to, you can find the Neil Patrick Harris version on YouTube.