Gay pride and Sondheim’s ‘Company’ at Bucks County Playhouse

company 2By John Dwyer and Herb Millman

Exciting times! We have just wrapped up Gay Pride Week in New Hope, our New Hope Celebrates Parade miraculously enjoyed sunny skies Saturday, June is officially LGBT Pride Month (and the anniversary of the landmark Stonewall riots), and arguably the most important legal decision of our lifetime will be decided by the Supreme Court: the definition of marriage.

And to make us all think about marriage and its important social implications, Bucks County Playhouse is presenting the Tony Award-winning 1971 Best Musical Company.

The protagonist of the piece is Bobby, a middle-aged bachelor who is questioning his status of being single by examining the marriages and lives of his friends. And, with apologies to Sondheim from the initial bars of the musical Bobby! Bobby, Baby!  (and hopefully Judge Roberts), “we’ll be so glad to see you.”

There have been assertions by some that Bobby is really gay, and that is why he is a confirmed bachelor. This idea as currently written really has no foundation. The musical as it stands is not a musical about a closeted gay man. If Sondheim wanted to write that musical, he would have. And to that comment, we have an addendum at the end of this article. But what is written could be called a “gay-issued musical,” although it doen’t have a single gay character in it.

The musical was written by two gay men — Stephen Sondheim did the music and lyrics, and George Furth wrote the book. It was shown to Sondheim by his gay friend Anthony Perkins when it was 11 one-act plays. All of these men were in the closet at the time. Perkins was going to direct the production, with Kim Stanley playing multiple female roles.  Sondheim, however, saw it as a concept musical, and so it began. It originally was to star Anthony Perkins as the commitment-phobic Bobby, but he bowed out. Dean Jones took his place.

As the show balances committed relationships against an open and free lifestyle, the average heterosexual audience member compares their options of a modern traditional marriage to a more freestyle relationship. But to a gay audience member, who until now has never had options, we feel even more boxed in than Bobby .

Bobby’s defining moment is when singing, “Being Alive, “which is a musical affirmation of needing love in one’s life.”  If you were gay or lesbian in the 1971, and you heard him yearn for “somebody crowd me with love, somebody force me to care,” there was a depth of meaning that was taken from your own personal experience.

Since religion and society, let alone the law, said the homosexual life was wrong until relatively recently, the concept of established relationships supported and admired by others, was more of a dream for a gay and lesbian than for our straight counterparts. It was not until U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence vs. Texas (2003) that sodomy laws in the U.S. United States were invalidated, and consensual sex in the privacy of one’s home was seen as protected by the Constitution.

And this is why, on the eve of Obergefell vs. Hodges, where the Supreme Court will most likely rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage, that our looking at its benefits in the groundbreaking show, Company is particularly apropos.

The addendum mentioned earlier is that in 2013, Sondheim was asked again and finally relented to undertake a rewrite of Company. Before, both Sondheim and Furth refused to consider even making one of Bobby’s married couples gay, which would have given a larger and more contemporary look at today’s choices. But in October, 2013 a private reading was done by the Roundabout Theater in New York. It was not a public event, but a tryout to see how well it worked.

It never went on to get fully produced. The cast was stellar and included Daniel Evans as Bobbie, Michael Urie, Bobby Steggart and Alan Cummings. Bobby Steggart was previously seen as Will at the Bucks County Playhouse in Terrence McNally’s Mother and Sons. Alan Cumming was in New Hope last week for “Galavant in the Garden,” a Bucks County Playhouse fundraiser, and performed “The Ladies who Lunch” at the Roundabout read-through.

Again, we live in exciting and wonderful times. After seeing the thought-provoking Company this month, we hope that many of us after the Supreme Court’s ruling next month can finally say (apologies to Sondheim), “There’s a place for us.”

Company starring Justin Guarini will be presented at the Bucks County Playhouse May 29-June 21.

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