Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Being Alive" and Other Reasons Why Single Life Apparently Sucks...

Greetings, Pals n’ Gals! I am once again swinging the spectrum of musical conversation back to the legendary Stephen Sondheim (I tend to do that). DISCLAIMER: There is a very good chance that every other blog entry I post (or so) will typically have something to do with the Great Stephen.  Furthermore, it has been brought to my attention that I may or may not get a little dramatic/overly poetic when discussing Sondheim’s work. For that, I make no apologies. So if you don’t like it, please visit the Complaints Department.
Lately, while observing the relationships of my married/coupled friends and family (as well as my own), a certain song has been incessantly creeping under my skin and burrowing in my brain. A song that makes me examine the ins and outs, pros and cons, simple and severe, ups and downs of a committed, full-time partnership. I am talking of none other than “Being Alive” from Company.

Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Book: George Furth

Broadway Debut: 1970

Tony Nominations-Wins: 14-6

The Show
Company revolves around 35 year-old bachelor, Bobby, and his relationships with his friends (five eccentric, married couples) and casual girlfriends. Originally titled Threes, the show is a concept musical, composed of short, non-linear vignettes, all linked by Bobby's 35th birthday celebration. He surveys from the sidelines as each of the married couples grapple with their respective issues: vices, divorce (sort of), neuroticism, infidelity, weed, and all the little things. The musical examines marriage/relationships and the reasons people come together, divorce, and stay together. With his friends acting as a less-than-attractive model for a committed relationship, Robert hopes for nothing more than an easy, no-strings-attached affair. 

The Song

The song starts with Robert exasperatedly asking, “What do you get?” He observes the pitfalls of being married through his friends and fails to grasp what compels people to allow such frustration and turmoil in their lives.  Robert first points out that in a marriage, there is ALWAYS someone there, sitting in your chair or ruining your sleep.  But then he digs deeper and finds that there’s much more to it. He sees that a relationship means someone not just being in your life, but being a key part of your life. Encouraged by his assorted married friends, he finally realizes the fulfilling and life-affirming rewards of being with somebody and wants that kind of intimacy.  “Someone” turns to “Somebody” as he proclaims that he wants to be part of something that indeed defines being alive.

“Being Alive” reflects the angst and demanding effort as well as the gains and gratification that come from being in an emotionally-intimate relationship. At first glance, nay, most glances, relationships are complicated, messy, and scary. But Robert realizes that there’s more to marriage than just being married. It’s something you work at every day. You fight and argue and cry and lose sleep and stress. Yet despite all its hardships, there is so much to win. You get to have a partner and be a partner.  A relationship is a two-way street, where neither party has all the answers, let alone the right ones.  But you get to search for them together. You bring out the best in each other and thrive together.  That sounds pretty gratifying to me.
The Legacy
Growing up, I never had a serious boyfriend (give or take a two-week We-Held-Hands-Once-So-We’re-Going-Out fling). I didn’t really feel like acquiring one either (hence the apparent lesbian rumors that circulated around my high school… without my knowledge until after I graduated. Sad panda). I’d be surrounded by friends and classmates in “relationships” and think is THIS love or intimacy? This just looks like lust and convenience and cheap jewelry.
I guess I can blame Stephen Sondheim for my early-onset cynicism.  With Company, he assured me (at the tender age of 9) that there was more to life than making out and sex and passive-aggressive manipulation with flavor-of-the-week boyfriends that my peers were accustomed to at the time. I figured if Robert didn’t have his shit figured out at 35, what the hell did teenagers know? ....Not that we ever have everything figured out. We just get better at faking it so we don’t have a meltdown at work (though I’ve been tempted!).
Sondheim has expressed displeasure in concluding the show with this song (seriously, Stephen. What is wrong with you!?), as he deems it a “cop-out.”  He had initially written two other songs to conclude Company before settling on “Being Alive;” both more jaded and sardonic versions of Robert’s ultimate revelations: “Multitudes of Amys” (sung here by the DELICIOUS Aaron Lazar!) and "Happily Ever After" (which eventually turned into "Being Alive" with a slightly more optimistic ending). I personally can’t imagine a song fitting the end of Company better than “Being Alive;” but then again, I’m not a musical genius, just an awestruck spectator. 
So much love up in here, it's disgusting...