Earlier today my iTunes random shuffle setting landed on a song that never fails to remind me of why I love theatre and live performance. It is a love affair that has spanned almost 20 years, nearly a 1000 shows, and dozens of moments of what I call theatre magic. One such moment came in 2007 when I witnessed my first true show stopping performance, and to this day whenever I hear the song “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company, I am reminded of the extraordinary power of theatre.
Company opened on Broadway on April 26th, 1970, and ultimately ran for 705 performances. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book written by George Furth, Company quickly distinguished itself from the other musicals of its day with its nonlinear plot and mature subject matter. It tells the story of a confirmed bachelor, Bobby, and the relationships he has with five married couples and three of his girlfriends. A series of vignettes are used to show the trials and tribulations of love and marriage, all loosely connected through the celebration of Bobby’s 35th birthday, a milestone that forces him to re-evaluate his priorities in life.
I was fortunate to see the most recent Broadway revival of Company, headlined by the incredible Raul Esparza as Bobby, which opened on November 29th, 2006 to rave reviews and won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. I saw this production in early 2007 knowing nothing about the show, but friend had recommended that I see it on the strength of Esparza’s performance alone. Esparza is noted for being one of only three actors to receive Tony nominations in all four of the acting categories, a feat that he accomplished in only six years, and watching him in Company I was convinced I was watching the Tony winning performance of the year. Sadly, Esparza did not win that year, and in fact he has gone 0 for 4 in the Tony race, but with his talent, it is only a matter of time.
I’m reminded of that every time I listen to “Being Alive”, during which Bobby realizes that he is ready to take a chance on love and find someone to share in the adventure of life. It is alternatively heartbreaking and hopeful, and it is a soaring anthem that addresses the issues that make marriage and relationships both maddening and worthwhile. It is a stunningly beautiful song, and when I listen to Esparza’s powerful rendition I am taken back to that moment in the theatre, five years ago, when I realized I was watching theatre magic. That night, Esparza’s “Being Alive” was so hauntingly beautiful and filled with emotion, that when the song was over the audience leapt to their feet and stopped the show cold. It was an organic response, brought forth by the power of a truly great performance, and it was an experience at the theatre that I will never forget.
Thankfully, both a cast recording and a DVD of this production were recorded, and as a result, Company in all its show stopping glory is ready to be discovered by those who missed seeing this production live. Nothing can ever compare to the experience of seeing live theatre, but when a show is this good, it’s worth preserving.