As I’ve noted on other occasions, I’m not particularly fond of the climactic number, “Being Alive”, from George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’s show Company.
I’m in the minority on this, perhaps it’s time to elaborate a bit.
It’s often been written, including by Sondheim himself, that the creators had difficulty coming up with an ending for their show. In one version, Amy doesn’t marry Paul at the end of Act One, and Bobby proposes to her at the end of Act Two. This led to the song “Multitudes of Amys”, a song that Sondheim was quite fond of, but it never got to rehearsal because it was quickly decided that Amy ought to marry Paul after all.
So Sondheim wrote “Happily Ever After” for Bobby in which he concludes that marriage is “happily ever after, Ever ever after, In Hell.” Hal Prince deemed this song too much of a “downer”.
Back to the piano went Sondheim and came up with a more positive and uplifting song, “Being Alive”, which from the title certainly sounds upbeat.
And I guess it is. It’s point is that if you aren’t married or in some sort of committed relationship, you’re basically dead.
“But alone is alone, not alive.”
As one of Bobby’s married friends says to him while he’s singing, “Don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect…the only thing to be afraid of really is that it won’t be!”
Oh, that spoken line was written by Sondheim’s collaborator George Furth.
For the record, as far as I can determine Furth was never in a committed relationship, and Sondheim didn’t enter one until decades later. So I guess Furth was never alive and Sondheim didn’t start living until he was in his 60s.
It seems especially ironic that Furth and Sondheim (and Hal Prince) devised this ending in 1970 just as the women’s movement was gaining steam and educating the public that women didn’t need to get married and have children in order to have a fulfilling life.
In Sondheim’s first professional musical, Saturday Night, which didn’t get produced until decades later because it’s producer died, there is a lyric that goes “Alive and alone on a Saturday night is dead.” In that show he was writing for a group of horny teenage boys. In “Being Alive” he extended that idea to the other six nights of the week and the rest of humanity.