Stephen Sondheim: Company (2006 Broadway Cast)

The 2006 Broadway cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is the first time I’ve listened to the score. I have no knowledge of the original cast recording from 1970, so I can’t make a comparison.

That also means I’m listening to this score with no preconceived notions, and for a play set 37 years ago, it’s aged remarkably well. The characters of the show have bittersweet attitudes toward relationships and marriage, and it feels as topical today as it probably did back then. (The show opened two years before I was born.)

Company focuses on a guy named Robert, who’s celebrating his 35 birthday. All of his friends are coupled or married, and the show follows his interactions with them. Some couples are in a rut, one couple is about to tie the knot, another is untying theirs. All of them needle Robert about his inability to commit, while he too probes the question of whether commitment is all that it’s cracked up to be.

Director John Doyle took the same approach as his 2005 revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd — the actors doubled as the orchestra, with the set kept to a bare minimum. Although the show got good reviews and won a Tony Award for Best Revival, it closed in July 2007. Good thing there’s a cast recording.

I don’t know how Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations compare, but the uncluttered arrangement of the revival’s score appeals to me. With the orchestra and cast being one and the same, the music pretty much has to get out of the way of the words, which it does nicely.

And of course, Sondheim cuts to the heart of the characters with his lyrics. "It’s the little things you do together … that makes perfect relationships," sings the cynical Joanne, "Neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together that keeps marriage intact."

When Robert asks Harry whether he’s sorry he got married, Harry answers with "Sorry-Grateful". "Good things get better, bad get worse. Wait, I think I meant that in reverse."

Heather Laws (Amy) tackles the spitfire verses of "I’m Not Getting Married Today" with superhuman agility. Sondheim is cruel to his singers that way.

I probably wouldn’t have shown interest in this show had it not been for profiles in the Advocate and the New York Times about the show’s star, Raúl Esparza. Yes, he’s teh hawt, and it’s only compounded by an incredible singing voice, if his reading of "Being Alive" is any indication.

Company is also one of Sondheim’s earliest scores, and the music sounds like, well, a musical. The abstractions which would later drive Sunday in the Park with George and Pacific Overtures find little precedent here. In short, the songs in this score are tuneful, something Sondheim’s work isn’t usually accused of being.

For fans of the original production, your mileage may vary. I’m still hesitant to listen to the 2005 cast recording of Sweeney Todd because I’m too familiar with the 1979 recording. In a strange twist, I’m also reluctant to listen to the original recording of Company now that the 2006 production was my introduction.

But the show itself has resilience. That bittersweet view of marriage and commitment hasn’t lost its relevance in the three decades following its first opening.