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Theatre / Company (Sondheim)

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"You've got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven't got one good reason for being alone."

Company is a 1970 American musical comedy with book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The plot revolves around Bobby, a handsome and well-liked single man, the five married couples who are his best friends, and three of his girlfriends. Unlike most book musicals, which follow a clearly delineated plot, Company consists of numerous short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order and linked together by a celebration of Bobby's 35th birthday. One of the show's most notable aspects was that it was among the first musicals to deal with more adult problems through its music. As Sondheim put it, "they are middle-class people with middle class-problems."

The original production was nominated for a record 14 Tony Awards, winning six.

This musical provides examples of:

  • Absurdism: One of the few musicals clearly influenced by Theatre of the Absurd, with its lack of a conventional plot, Black Comedy Deconstruction of conventional married life, and cryptic dialogue.
    "You know, a person like Bob doesn't have the good things, but he doesn't have the bad things, but he doesn't have the good things."
  • Actor-Muso Show: The 2006 John Doyle Broadway production had all the characters except Bobby playing instruments as a metaphor for his perpetually single state.
  • Adaptational Name Change: To accommodate the Gender Flip, the 2018 revival changes Bobby to Bobbie, April to Andy, Marta to PJ, Kathy to Theo, and Amy to Jamie.
  • Adaptational Sexuality:
    • In 2013, a rewritten version was in the works with Bobby as a gay man struggling to commit to one man, though production of this script never made it to the stage. However, the 2018 and 2020 revivals rewrite Amy as a male character (Jamie), thus turning her fiancée Paul into an openly-gay man.
    • In the original script, Peter reveals that he's attracted to men, and asks Bobby about the possibility of them ever getting together. The 2018 revival, however, completely omits this scene, implying that Peter may not be gay in this version.
  • Am I Just a Toy to You?: Marta, April and Cathy (and PJ, Andy, and Theo) to Bobby/Bobbie.
    Then you leave a person dangling sadly outside your door
    Which it only makes a person gladly want you even more
  • The Alcoholic: Bobbie in the 2018 London and later Broadway revival. In the opening scene, she arrives back at her apartment holding a bottle of Maker’s Mark, which practically accompanies her along the musical. The piñata at her party’s shaped like a bottle of Maker’s Mark.
  • Alternate Show Interpretation: Over the years, the play has undergone a transformation as to the concept behind the concept musical: in the original production, there was more of a focus on the show being a series of vignettes about married life, but later productions (particularly the 2006 Broadway Revival) interpret the text as a narrative about Bobby's isolation and inability to connect with people as his friends do.
  • Amicable Exes: An extreme example: by the second act Peter and Susan have gotten divorced but they are still living together and raising the children together, and have found that the divorce has actually strengthened their relationship. They express their happiness but also state that they aren't getting married again when Bobby asks.
  • Anachronic Order: There is no plot, just a series of vignettes depicting Bobby's relationships with his married friends and his three girlfriends, and the view he gets on love, relationship and marriage from his view of their lives. Consequently, it's unclear when most of the scenes take place in relation to each other, with the exception of the intercut sequences of his birthday party.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: A meta version. Sondheim himself commented that when the musical debuted, the primary Broadway audience was made up of upper-middle class white people who went to shows to escape the problems of their everyday lives—so he deliberately composed a piece that was about the problems in the everyday lives of upper-middle class white people. He hoped to force audiences to reflect on their own relationships by presenting them on a stage for everyone to see.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Sorry-Grateful", downplayed. Bob asks Harry if he's ever sorry that he got married. Harry's answer is a yes, and a no — he's sorry, and grateful, because married life is very different from being in love.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: With a little help from Joanne, Bobby actually delivers one to himself:
    Joanne: I'll take care of you.
    Bobby: But who will I take care of?
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Near the end of Act I, Robert asks Amy to marry him. Amy turns him down, telling him "you have to want to marry somebody, not just somebody."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In "Poor Baby", as Bobby is seen sleeping with April, the wives are shown saying that he ought to have a woman, but not someone like the woman he's with right now. They each state their criticisms of her, saying that she's "dumb", "tacky", "vulgar", "odd", etc. Joanne's complaint? She's "tall enough to be your mother."
  • Birthday Hater: Bobbie. The show opens with her taking a shot to “celebrate” her turning thirty-five, and closes with her puncturing the massive 35-shaped balloons in her apartment with a knife, and blowing out the candles on her birthday cake with a fire extinguisher.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: A sort of meta one is the three most recognizable Joannes: Elaine Stritch, the original, was blonde, Barbara Walsh in the 2006 revival was a brunette, and Patti LuPone in the 2011 concert version was a redhead.
  • Bowdlerise: "You Can Drive a Person Crazy" originally went, "I could understand a person/If it's not a person's bag./I could understand a person/If a person was a fag." Later productions changed it to, "I could understand a person/If he said to go away./I could understand a person/If he happened to be gay."
    • Some productions that stick to the original script change the lyric to "If a person was a drag".
  • Book Ends: Bobby's 35th birthday party opens and closes each act.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done quite a few times during the 2011 concert performance. In one scene, Bobby and April treat the conductor like an interior decoration. During "Getting Married Today", Amy goes up to the conductor, takes his baton, and snaps it in half in order to stop the music. And at the end of "Ladies Who Lunch", Joanne literally tosses her drink into the audience.
  • Broken Bird: Depending on the interpretation, Joanne could be seen as a cynical example: She is an alcoholic who has been twice divorced and is currently on her third husband. She is rather different from Bobby's other friends, spends most of the scenes making occasional snarky remarks, and is shown being extremely critical of both her husband, who clearly loves her with all his heart, and of Bobby. However, Bobby describes her as "warm", and her husband says that her behaviour comes from the fact that she has "no self-esteem". In the end, she also plays something of a mentor role to Bobby, as she is the one who makes him question what he wants from a relationship.
    • Also, Bobbie. She’s desperately searching for something to make her whole.
  • Broken Record: At the end of "The Ladies Who Lunch", Joanne repeatedly sings the word "rise."
  • BSoD Song: The second half of "The Ladies Who Lunch", where Joanne realizes that she has wasted her life criticizing others instead of trying to change for the better.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Bobby can be played this way, as he is fooling around with multiple women and it's clear that he has no problem with casual sex and one-night stands, but seems to be genuinely kind and caring towards the women he knows and doesn't overstep his bounds with his married female friends. In "What Would We Do Without You?" as his married friends describe him as the perfect friend, they say that he is "a flirt but never a threat".
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Bobbie in the 2018 revival. She wears a bright red jumpsuit (with matching red lingerie), while the rest of the cast (and the set) is in shades of muted grey, black, and white.
  • Coordinated Clothes: In the New York Philharmonic production, the married couples are colour-coordinated, with Joanne and Larry in black, Amy and Paul in white and grey, Sarah and Harry in red, Jenny and David in yellow, and Susan and Peter in pink. Bobby wears blue and brown, and his solo scenes are all lit with blue light. The lighting of each scene tends to go with the colour scheme of the couple (Joanne and Larry's lighting ending up as purple), and the pillows on the sofas are changed to match as well.
  • Coming of Age Story: For Bobby. In "Side By Side By Side" his friends comment on how they've gotten older but he seems to stay the same, and at the end Joanne tells him that he's not a kid anymore.
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: The 1996 revival changed a lyric in "You Can Drive a Person Crazy" that went "I could understand a person if it's not a person's bag / I could understand a person if a person were a fag," to the more respectful "I could understand a person if he said to go away / I could understand a person if he happened to be gay." This wasn't consistent for all later productions, but the majority of productions since then have used the revised lyric.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joanne. She even has an entire song snarking about different types of women.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The various sorts of rich, middle-aged women that Joanne describes in "The Ladies Who Lunch." By the third verse, she is also including and describing herself. By the ending, Bobby has a bit of this, too.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Multiple different meanings of the word "company" (as relating to human relationships) are used throughout the show. And then there's the subtextual pun that the cast of a musical is referred to collectively as the "company".
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Bobbie, especially as she reaches thirty-five. Invoked by Joanne in "The Ladies Who Lunch", directed at Bobbie:
    Joanne: And here’s to the girls who just watch
    Aren’t they a gas?
    When they get depressed it’s a bottle of scotch
    Plus a little jest
  • Drunken Montage: The staging of "What Would We Do Without You?" in the 2018 revival, showing Bobbie’s party with her friends, and constantly being poured shots of Maker’s Mark. It ends with her throwing up in a bucket (held up by Joanne of course).
  • Downer Ending: One amateur production infamously ended the show with Robert Driven to Suicide. Sondheim was not amused.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene is this for several of the characters. First, it shows Bobby's popularity and his friendship with the couples. Sarah and Harry's competitive and combative relationship is established as they give him their present. Amy's neurotic nature is shown as she presents him with the present from her and Paul. Joanne's cynical and sarcastic nature is shown when she snarks at the other wives and, when one of them asks Bobby who she is, responds thus:
    Joanne: That is I, miss. I'm very rich and I'm married to him, and I'd introduce him but I forgot his name.
  • Fantasy Sequence:
    • The entire show - from the moment Robert leaves his voice message up until the final scene - takes place in Robert's head. The big clue is that we keep returning to Robert's 35th birthday party but it plays out differently every time.
    • The genderflipped version has Bobbie watch several possible Bad Futures play out after she and Andy go together, all represented by various doubles crossing the stage in increasingly tense repetition. Among them is a cold marriage marked by careerism, harried motherhood, the trials of pregnancy- but also the specter of ending up an aging still-single party girl who manages her alcoholism far more poorly than Bobbie does in the presence.
  • Fiery Redhead: Joanne, as played by Patti LuPone in the 2011 New York Philharmonic production.
  • Friendship Song: "Side By Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You?", Bobby's ode to his married friends and their description of him as the perfect friend, but it's ultimately a subversion as the brief Un-Duet moment shows that even though he has friends, Bobby is still, ultimately, alone, and the lyrics of "What Would We Do Without You?" show that his married friends use him as something of a crutch to help them through their own marital difficulties.
  • Gender Flip: The 2018 London revival reimagines Bobby as a woman (Bobbie), and the three girlfriends are now a trio of boyfriends. Amy has also been reworked as a gay man named Jamie.
  • Girl Next Door: Kathy, Bobby's longtime girlfriend. She is a sweet, wholesome girl from Cape Cod who feels out of place in New York, and Bobby admits that at the beginning of their relationship he wanted to marry her. She admits that she felt the same way before telling him that she's moving back to Cape Cod to get married and have a family.
  • Growing Up Sucks: "You're not a kid anymore, Robby! I don't think you'll ever be a kid again, kiddo!"
  • Happily Married: It's very clear that all of the couples have far from fairy-tale marriages, but in the end one is left with the impression that they are, ultimately, happy and fulfilled in their relationships.
  • "I Want" Song: First, "Someone is Waiting" depicts Bobby's impossible dream of finding the perfect woman, who combines the best parts of all of his female friends. Then in "Marry Me a Little", he expresses a desire for an easy, no-strings marriage, but it's clear that what he's hoping for isn't realistic or sustainable. Finally in "Being Alive" he starts by decrying marriage, but ultimately expresses a strong desire for someone to share his life with.
  • Idle Rich: In the 2011 New York Philharmonic production, as Bobby describes each of his female friends in "Someone Is Waiting", they are shown each doing their normal household activities, such as reading a magazine or folding children's clothes, but Joanne is shown lounging and staring off into the distance.
  • In the Style of: The arrangements for the original Broadway run have an obvious Burt Bacharach influence, using his Latin-influenced rhythms and mod flourishes throughout, but "Another Hundred People" and "The Ladies Who Lunch" in particular sound quite a bit like Bacharach, who represented a fusion of traditional pop music and more modern sounds at the time. Sondheim chose Jonathan Tunick, the orchestrator of Bacharach's Promises, Promises, to do the arrangements for Company (their first of many collaborations) in the same style, including a group of wordless vocalists, called "The Vocal Minority" in the program.
  • Incredibly Long Note: "We looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove you." This infamous forty-second-long note (18 in the recording) comes from a peculiarity in the staging of the original production: the note was held for exactly the duration of how long it took the two elevators in Boris Aronson's set to do a complete raise! In other productions, including the 2007 revival, the note is sometimes shortened. The 2011 concert retains the full length.
  • Ironic Birthday: It's on his 35th birthday that Bobby finally realizes that "alone is alone, not alive" and realizes that he does want commitment.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joanne is usually played this way. Drunk, sarcastic and abrasive, but she does care about Bobby and Larry (and sometimes, she'll even act like it).
  • Lady Drunk: Joanne.
    Joanne: What was that clock chime?
    Larry: Five-o'-clock.
    Joanne: Thank God, cocktail hour!
  • Leitmotif: The descending minor third, most recognisably set to the central character's name: "Bobby". Nearly every melody in the score is based around it, and it occurs frequently as an accompaniment motif. Fitting, as the entire show revolves around Bobby and his being a third wheel to various couples.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: When Larry is talking about why he loves Joanne so much in spite of her behaviour, he mentions that his mother was a "very difficult woman", suggesting that there's an element of this.
  • List Song:
    • "The Little Things You Do Together" describes the ways that couples interact and the activities they share that can make (or break) a relationship.
    • "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" has Robert's girlfriends listing off the various ways he has led them on, as well as several excuses that they could understand for not wanting to commit.
    • "Someone Is Waiting" has Robert singing about the best qualities of all of his married female friends as he imagines what his perfect woman would be like.
    • "The Ladies Who Lunch" describes different sorts of rich, middle-aged women who while away their time trying to escape or ignore their directionless, unfulfilled lives.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: The lyrics of "What Would We Do Without You?" show that Bobby's married friends use him as this to help them through their marital difficulties.
    What would we do without you?
    How would we ever get through?
    Should there be a marital squabble,
    Available Bob'll
    Be there with the glue.
  • Love Dodecahedron: In addition to his three girlfriends, "Someone is Waiting" shows that Bobby does find all of his married female friends attractive in one way or another, and he is depicted as innocently flirting with them (there's even a line in "What Would We Do Without You?" that states that one of the reasons he is such a good friend is that he is "a flirt but never a threat"). There's also the scene where he proposes to Amy on the spur of the moment, the one where Peter asks him if he's ever had a homosexual experience, and the one where Joanne asks him when they're going to "make it" before suggesting he visit her the next day while her husband is at work and declaring that she'll "take care of him".
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "The Little Things You Do Together", an incredibly catchy song that shows marriage getting progressively bleaker.
    • "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" is sung in the style of 1940-50's pop groups, a la Andrews Sisters, but the lyrics are about April, Kathy, and Marta passive-aggressively berating Robert on his lack of commitment.
    • The Cut Song "Happily Ever After" would have absolutely taken the cake. It's a peppy, cheerful song about how life is dismal and horrible for everyone.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: "Another Hundred People" for Marta. As noted above, it was written just to showcase Pamela Myers.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Joanne's first line after her epic BSoD Song:
    Joanne: I would like a cigarette, Larry.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: How the 2018 revival characterizes PJ, the gender flipped Marta. He Prefers Going Barefoot, busks on a street corner, and wears a vest with no shirt.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Robert's a very sweet, charming man, which is partially why all the wives adore him and really want him to find somebody to settle down with.
    • Paul is genuinely loving with Amy, despite her neurotic tendencies, which he expresses by leaving affectionate notes for her to find around their house.
    • Larry's also a genuinely pleasant, nice guy who loves Joanne dearly — even when she's not at her most lovable.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Joanne tends to get practically abusive towards her husband Larry.
  • Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation: Whatever it is Bobby/Bobbie does for a living. It must pay well to allow them to afford a large apartment in Manhattan.
  • Off the Wagon: Harry claims to be on the wagon, but is seen sneaking sips of bourbon. Meanwhile, his wife Sarah is on a diet but is seen sneaking bites of a brownie.
  • Patter Song:
    • A decent amount of "Another Hundred People" is also very fast and wordy.
    • Amy's part of "Getting Married Today." It's the second-fastest Broadway song ever written, with an average of 6.2 words per second.
  • Perky Goth: The Marta of the 2006 Broadway revival (played by Angel Desai) comes across this way.
  • Random Events Plot: It started out as a series of one-act plays written by George Furth, so it was easier to just adapt them into a vignette format.
  • Really Gets Around: Bobby is fooling around with three attractive young women and has had countless other girlfriends.
  • Rich Bitch: Joanne seems to be this, as exemplified by the following quote from the opening scene, but there are a few moments that show a slightly softer side of her. Bobby also describes her as "warm" in "Someone is Waiting."
    Joanne: I'm very rich and I'm married to him, and I'd introduce him but I forgot his name.
  • Rich Boredom: "The Ladies Who Lunch" is Joanne's scathing description of the empty and ultimately meaningless lives of rich, middle-aged women, herself included, and the various ways they try to distract themselves or remain in denial of how unfulfilled they feel.
  • Sanity Slippage Song:
    • "Getting Married Today" has Amy becoming increasingly anxious as she gets cold feet on her wedding day.
    • Some interpretations of "The Ladies Who Lunch", such as Patti LuPone's, have shades of this, especially in the last two verses.
  • Serial Spouse: Joanne has been married "three or four times". (According to Bobby, it's three.)
  • Setting Introduction Song: "Another Hundred People", halfway through the first act, describes the city of New York and the busy lives of the people living in and passing through it.
  • Setting Update: Thanks to the leniency of the script, the show can easily be updated for whatever year (or decade) it's performed in. For example, the 2020 revival is clearly set in today's times, with selfies and social media playing a role in the story. The nightclub that Joanne and Bobbie go to even plays a dubstep remix of the title song.
  • Sex Equals Love: Averted; the difference is explored in "Tick-Tock."
  • Sex Goddess: Bobbie in the 2018 London revival. Confirmed by PJ, Theo, and Andy in "You Could Drive a Person Crazy."
    Andy: She’s good!
    PJ and Theo: No shit!
  • Sexy Stewardess: April, especially when played by Christina Hendricks. And Andy, her gender flipped counterpart. He emerges in one scene with Bobbie’s panties in his mouth.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Sarah and Harry's scene involves them continuously contradicting each other before getting into a definitely-not-playful karate demonstration, but ends with this:
    Sarah: I'll turn out the lights. I always do.
    Harry: No you don't.
    Sarah: Oh Harry, I love you.
  • Small Start, Big Finish: "Being Alive" starts at speaking volume and gets bigger and bigger as the song goes on, eventually reaching full on belt at the line "But alone, is alone, not alive" and continues in this manner until the end.
  • Smoking Is Cool: It was made in the 70's so several of the characters smoke. The most notable is Joanne (in the DVD of the 2011 concert version, you can see that her cigarettes are Pall Malls) who states that smoking is "the best", and who mocks Bobby for saying that he "meant to" smoke but never did, pointing out that that statement sums up his life and his lack of resolve and commitment.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Bobby/Bobbie, who refuses to join Joanne after "The Ladies Who Lunch." They will smoke marijuana though (and Bobbie vapes in the 2018 revival).
    Bobby/Bobbie: I do not smoke. My age group is a very uptight age group.
  • Sobriquet Sex Switch: Mostly averted in the 2018 West End/2022 Broadway revival, which flips most of the cast's genders. The only two whose names aren't changed to something completely different are Amy/Jamie and Bobby/Bobbie, since both have certain lyrics written around their names.note 
  • Starter Marriage: Joanne's first marriage happened when she was just out of college, and apparently lasted only a year, until her husband announced that he wanted to move back to Chicago and she refused. As she tells Bobby:
    Joanne: I was too young, but I was old enough to know where I was living, and I had no intention of leaving New York.
  • Stepford Smiler: Bobby. To begin with he appears genial, charming and pleasantly baffled by his "crazy" married friends. As the show wears on it becomes clear that he spends time with them because he's desperately lonely, but also scared of being emotionally vulnerable.
  • Stepford Snarker: Joanne could be seen as an example, depending on the interpretation. She is a snarky, abrasive alcoholic who has been divorced twice. Her current husband, Larry, says that she is "wildly conceited" with "no self-esteem", and that she still is unable to believe that he loves her and continues to be fascinated by her. Her song, "The Ladies Who Lunch", starts as her critique of rich middle-aged women who while away their lives with meaningless activities but turns into a scathing description of her own directionless life.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Although it's not used for comedic effect, there is one in Poor Baby:
    There's no one
    In his life,
    Robert ought to have a woman...
    • There's another one that is used for comic effect at the end of "Barcelona", the morning after Bobby and April have slept together and she is getting ready to leave to be on a flight to Barcelona. Bobby makes the usual false pleas that she stay, clearly wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep, leading to this exchange:
      April: That's not to say
      That if I had my way...
      Oh, well...I guess...okay!
      Bobby: What?
      April: I'll stay!
      Bobby: But...oh God!
  • Surprise Party: The show starts (and ends) with the surprise party Bobby's married friends have thrown for his 35th birthday.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Joanne gives a minor one to Bobby in the scene following "The Ladies Who Lunch":
    Bobby: I never smoked.
    Joanne: Why not?
    Bobby: I don't know. I meant to, does that count?
    Joanne: "Meant to"? "Meant to"? Story of your life, "meant to". Jesus, you were lifted right out of a Kraft-Ebbing case history. You were always outside staring in the window while everyone was inside dancing at the party. Now, I insist you smoke. Here, Rob, smoke.
    Bobby: No thank you. You smoke. I'll watch.
    Joanne: "Watch"? Did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you just said, kiddo? "Watch"! I'm offering you the chance to-
    Bobby: I don't want one!
    Joanne: Because you're weak! I hate people who are weak!
    • The third verse of "The Ladies Who Lunch" could also be seen as Joanne giving one to herself:
      And here's to the girls who just watch—
      Aren't they the best?
      When they get depressed,
      It's a bottle of Scotch,
      Plus a little jest.
      Another chance to disapprove,
      Another brilliant zinger,
      Another reason not to move,
      Another vodka stinger.
      [screamed] I'll drink to that!
  • Threesome Subtext: While his relationship with his married friends seems to be completely platonic, in "Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?" Bobby talks about how his married friends are all he needs and the couples talk about what a perfect friend he is and how his presence helps them through all of their marital difficulties.
  • Time-Passes Montage: Overlaps with Anxiety Dreams; the staging of "Tick-Tock", showing Bobbie settling down, getting married, having children, growing old, fat and frazzled (and constantly having to put the toilet seat back down) with Andy the flight attendant.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Joanne and her vodka stingers. Bobby also seems to have a fondness for bourbon. Bobbie and Maker’s Mark in the 2018 revival, as a giant bottle appears at one point in the vignettes.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Invoked. The married couples and the girlfriends come across as much more lively and colourful than Bobby himself. This is because Bobby is deliberately keeping anyone from getting to know him too well. The other characters keep trying to help Bobby realise that this is ultimately leaving him empty, unfulfilled and lonely.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Or rather, Whole Staging Reference in the 2018 revival to Alice in Wonderland, with Bobbi being shown climbing through either oversized or undersized versions of her empty apartment to reach each individual vignette.

Alternative Title(s): Company