Originally entitled Threes, its plot revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. Unlike most book musicals, which follow a clearly delineated plot, Company is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby's 35th birthday.
Company was among the first musicals to deal with adult problems through its music. As Sondheim put it, "they are middle-class people with middle class-problems."
George Furth wrote 11 one-act plays in which he planned to have Kim Stanley enact each of the 11 leads. Anthony Perkins was interested in directing, and asked Sondheim to read the material. After Sondheim read the plays, he asked Harold Prince for his opinion; Prince thought the plays would make the basis for a musical. The theme would be New York marriages with a central character to examine those marriages.
After seven previews, the Broadway production, directed by Hal Prince, opened on April 26 1970 at the Alvin Theatre, where it ran for 705 performances. The opening night cast included Dean Jones (who had replaced Anthony Perkins early in the rehearsal period when Perkins departed to direct a play), Donna McKechnie, Susan Browning, Pamela Myers, Barbara Barrie, Charles Kimbrough, Merle Louise, Beth Howland, and Elaine Stritch. Musical staging was by Michael Bennett, assisted by Bob Avian.
Shortly after opening night, Jones withdrew from the show, allegedly due to illness, but actually due to stress he was suffering from ongoing divorce proceedings. He was replaced by his understudy Larry Kert, who had created the role of Tony in West Side Story. Kert earned rave reviews for his performance when the critics were invited to return. In an unusual move, the Tony Awards committee deemed Kert eligible for a nomination, an honor usually reserved for the actor who originates a role.
A documentary of the recording of the original cast recording was created by D. A. Pennebaker shortly after the show opened on Broadway. In the film, Stritch struggles to record the song "The Ladies Who Lunch."
As it had already been recorded prior to his assuming the role of Bobby, the Broadway cast album did not include Kert. However, when the cast travelled to London to reprise their roles, Columbia Records took him into the studio to record new tracks to lay down over Jones' removed ones. This "new" recording was released as the Original London Cast recording. In 1998, when Sony Music who had acquired the Columbia catalogues, released a newly-digitalized CD version of the original Broadway cast recording, Kert's rendition of "Being Alive," the show's final number, was included as a bonus track.
What follows is a series of disconnected scenes, each featuring one of the couples and Robert.
The first scene features Robert with Harry and Sarah. Robert has brought over some brownies and some brandy for a nightcap, but Sarah is dieting and Harry is on the wagon, or at least that's what they say. Between needling and taunting each other mercilessly about their respective vices, Harry sneaks glasses of brandy and Sarah hides bites of cake. Sarah has been studying karate, and Robert implores her to demonstrate a throw or two. She does so, on Harry. He tries to counter, and they are soon thrashing about in violence that may or may not be playful. The caustic Joanne, the oldest, most cynical and most-oft married of Robert's friends, watches and observes that it is "The Little Things You Do Together" that make a marriage work. After Sarah has gone to bed, Robert asks Harry if he ever regretted getting married. He answers, and the other married men concur, that you are always "Sorry-Grateful", and that marriage changes both everything and nothing about the way you live.
Robert is with Peter and Susan next, on their apartment terrace, from which they can sort of almost see the East River. They seem like a perfect couple, apart from her frequent fainting spells. He's Ivy League, she's a southern belle, and they love each other very much. Robert innocently flirts with Susan, telling Peter that if they ever break up, he wants to be the first to know. Well, they reply, he's the first to know. They're getting divorced.
At the home of Jenny and David, Robert has brought some marijuana along with him. Jenny is rather uptight and David is very chic, and all three puff away feeling very hip and proud of themselves. David declares himself potted and the self-admitted square Jenny talks non-stop before realizing she is completely stoned. The couple, even in their enlightened state of consciousness, finds the strength to grill Robert on why he hasn't gotten married yet. It's not like he's opposed to it. He's looking. In fact, he's found three lovely young women he is currently fooling around with. The women, Kathy, Marta and April appear and proceed, Andrews Sisters-style, to berate Robert for his reluctance to commit ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy"). As the evening at Jenny and David’s comes to a close, David tells Robert privately that Jenny really doesn't enjoy the pot, but she does it to please him.
Everyone it seems is trying to pair Robert off with someone, and each of the deeply-envious men has found someone perfect for a night of pleasure or two. When you can have that, they chorus, why would you want to get married ("Have I Got a Girl For You")? But Robert is happy to put off anything like that for a while. He's waiting for someone, someone who is a composite of all his married female friends, someone who has Amy's sweetness and Sarah's warmth and Susan's blue eyes. She's out there, somewhere ("Someone is Waiting").
Robert meets his three girlfriends in Central Park on three separate occasions as Marta sings of the city: crowded, dirty, uncaring and wonderful ("Another Hundred People").
Robert meets with April first. She's an airline flight attendant, and not a very bright one. She knows she's boring and dumb, and she's okay with it. She's found a great set-up with an uninterested male friend, and seems happy.
Robert and Kathy meet in a secluded, quiet clearing in the park. She loves it here because it's out of place in the hectic City, just like she is. Robert admits that at the beginning of their past relationship, he would have married her. She admits the same thing, and they laugh at the realization that they both wanted to marry each other before she drops a bombshell: she's going back to Cape Cod to get married. She doesn't belong here; just like the clearing they're in. And then she's gone.
Marta, on the other hand, loves the city. It's the center of the universe. The out-there Marta babbles on about topics as diverse as true sophistication, the difference between uptown and downtown New York, and how you can always tell a New Yorker by their ass. Robert is, frankly, left stunned.
Amy and Paul have lived together for years, but are only now getting married. To say Amy has cold feet is the understatement of the millennium. She is in an unprecedented state of panic, and as a celestial soprano (played by Jenny) comments and Paul harmonizes rapturously, Amy patters an impressive list of reasons why she is "Not Getting Married Today." Robert, the best man, and Paul watch as she self-destructs over warm orange juice and burnt toast and the rain and the fact that Paul is Jewish while she's Catholic and finally just refuses to go through with it. Paul dejectedly runs out into the rain without a coat. Robert tries to comfort Amy, but winds up proposing to her: "Marry me and they'll all leave us alone!" His words jolt Amy back into reality, and with the parting words "you need to marry somebody, not someBODY," she runs out after Paul.
Back at the birthday party, Robert is given his cake and tries to blow out the candles again. He wishes for something this time, someone to "Marry Me a Little", praying for an easy, no-strings marriage.
Robert brings April to his apartment for a nightcap after a date. She marvels ad nauseam at how homey his place is, and he casually positions her over the bed as they share stories about a crushed butterfly and a spoiled date, going through the usual movements associated with casual sex. Meanwhile, the married women worry about Robert. He's lonely, they say, he needs a woman. A real woman, someone like them, not the girl he's with now, who couldn't be more wrong for him. ("Poor Baby"). When the inevitable sex happens, Kathy appears and performs a dance that conveys the difference between having sex and making love ("Tick-Tock"). The next morning, April wakes up to report for duty. She's got to be on Flight 18 to "Barcelona" in a few hours. Robert makes the customary false pleas for her to stay, and for some inexplicable reasons, the pleading works and she does. Robert is less than pleased.
Robert takes another girlfriend, Marta this time, to visit Peter and Susan's terrace. They've gotten their divorce. Peter flew to Mexico to get it, and it was so nice there he phoned Susan and she joined him there for a vacation. They're still living together. They have too many responsibilities to actually split up, and their relationship has actually been strengthened by their divorce. Susan takes Marta inside to make lunch, and Peter asks Robert if he's ever had a homosexual experience. They both admit they have. Robert asks Peter if he's gay, which he denies, but Peter questions if mankind wouldn't prefer to just "ball it" if it weren't for social norms and wonders if he and Robert could ever have something. Robert, clearly uncomfortable, laughs the conversation off as a joke as the women return.
Joanne and Larry take Robert out to a nightclub, and as Larry dances, Joanne and Robert get thoroughly drunk. She regales him with tales of her ex-husbands and insults Larry before yelling at some women at the next table to stop looking at her. She raises her glass in a mocking toast to "The Ladies who Lunch", a damning list of foolish middle-aged women who pretend to be so smart, yet who waste their lives away in their living rooms. She blames Robert for always being an outsider, and then berates Larry again. By the end of the song, Joanne has realized that she herself is "the lady who lunches", of whom she has been scoffing at all evening. She hates herself not only because of how unsatisfactory her lifestyle has become, but because she is worse than the fellow women she scorns---Joanne is the one who wastes her life away, criticizing people who have the same faults as she does.
Larry takes Joanne's drunken rant without complaint and explains to Robert that despite the fact she's so abusive, or maybe because of it, he loves her dearly. When Larry leaves to pay the check, Joanne propositions Robert. She'll take care of him, she says. But whom will he take care of? Joanne and Larry leave Robert to finally come to terms with his breakthrough.
He finally confronts the five couples. Why get married, he cries. What do you get from it but someone to smother you and make you feel things you don't want to feel? But his arguments pale and he finally, finally wishes for someone to share his life with, someone to help and hurt and hinder and love, someone to face the challenge of "Being Alive" with.
Back at the opening party, his friends waited two hours, but Robert hasn't shown up. Finally, they all get the message and go home, wishing their absent friend a happy birthday. Robert appears alone, smiles, and blows out his candles.
The Married couples:
The Vocal Minority (pit singers):
* In the 1990s, "Marry Me a Little" was restored permanently to close Act I and added to the 1995 and 2006 revivals, it is also included in the official composer's edition of the vocal selections, published in 1996 (ISBN 0-7935-6763-7).
** The dance number "Tick-Tock" (arranged by David Shire) was abridged for the first Broadway revival, and afterwards deleted entirely from the score. It had become a liability in productions without dancers of the caliber of Donna McKechnie. However, it has since been restored in some productions (such as the 2004 Reprise! production in Los Angeles).
*** The song "Multitude of Amys" was the original finale but was cut owing to major structural changes in the script. "Marry Me a Little" was started as a replacement but also cut. "Happily Ever After" was used as the finale for the first few performances, before being replaced by "Being Alive".
Original Broadway production
1995 Broadway revival
2006 Broadway revival