Being Alive

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"Being Alive" is a song from the musical Company by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The song appears at the end of Act II and is sung by the main character, Robert, a 35-year-old bachelor who at the show's end “. . . realizes being a lone wolf isn't all it's cracked up to be . . . he declares that he wants to take the chance, be afraid, get his heart broken - or whatever happens when you decide to love and be loved." [1]

"Being Alive" was first recorded by Dean Jones, who originated the role of Robert on Broadway in 1970. "Being Alive" has become popular outside its original musical setting, and although written for a male part is frequently performed by women. The song has been performed in concert, on the stage, or in the studio by Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Barbra Streisand, Margaret Whiting, Lea Salonga, John Owen-Jones, Ute Lemper, Lauren Samuels, Raul Esparza, Chris Colfer, and Neil Patrick Harris, among others.

“Being Alive” replaced the song “Happily Ever After”, which was cut from Company because it was considered too dark to serve as a closing number. According to cultural critic Jeremy McCarter, Sondheim has never been happy with “Being Alive” as the finale for Company, calling it “a cop-out”.[2]

Context[edit]

"Being Alive" appears at the end of Act II of the musical Company by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The song is sung by the main character, Robert (Bobby), who is facing his 35th birthday and the prospect of living the rest of his life alone. Prior to singing "Being Alive", Robert reflects on the relationships of five couples, his “. . . good and crazy married friends—Susan and Peter, Sarah and Harry, Amy and Paul, Jenny and David, and Joanne and Larry . . ." [3] along with the relationships he has with three of his “girlfriends—April, Kathy, and Marta . . ." [3] While each relationship has its problems, Robert concludes that life is better lived with someone rather than alone.

Act I[edit]

It all begins early in the musical when Robert visits Sarah and Harry’s apartment. “Trading barbs while sneaking bites and sips, [Sarah and Harry] tease Bobby for his inquisitiveness and lack of romantic commitment . . . Robert then visits Peter and Susan in their terrace apartment. To Bobby’s surprise, they happily announce that they’re getting a divorce".[3]
"Later, Bobby spends a late night with David and Jenny, smoking pot while the kids are sleeping. David proclaims his love for her [Jenny] and marriage in general. Moved by this, Bobby vows that he’s ready for a big change . . . Bobby wonders how well any of his friends really know their spouses." [3]
Next, Robert visits Amy and Paul on their wedding day, where “. . . the bride-to-be is noticeably frazzled. Her fiancé, Paul, is driving her nuts with his patient assurances, so she frantically pushes him away with jokes and jibes, and finally calls off the wedding. Paul leaves, dejected, and Bobby, in a moment of impulsiveness, proposes to Amy. Amy admonishes him, reaffirms her commitment to Paul, and runs off to get married." [3]

Act II[edit]

Next, Robert brings one of his girlfriends, April, a flight attendant, to his apartment where they make love. "Later, he brings Marta to Peter and Susan’s apartment, where even she is amazed at the couple’s new situation: divorced, they are happy living together . . . At a nightclub, Joanne . . . mocks Bobby’s detachment and offers to have an affair with him. Having shocked him into self-realization, she leaves." [3] At the show’s conclusion, Robert’s friends remind him he is not getting any younger, referring to the candles on his birthday cake with the comment “Add ‘em up, Bobby. Add ‘em up." They urge Robert to “want something, want some thing.” His friend Harry proclaims “You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.” Finally Robert sings out that “alone is alone, not alive.”

Performances (on stage, in concert, recorded or otherwise)[edit]

"Being Alive" was first recorded by Dean Jones, who originated the role of Robert on Broadway in 1970. "Being Alive" has become popular outside its original musical setting, and although written for a male part is frequently performed by women. The song has been performed in concert, on the stage, or in the studio by Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Barbra Streisand, Margaret Whiting, Lea Salonga, Ute Lemper, and Lauren Samuels, among others. Raul Esparza was a nominee at the 2007 Tony Awards for his role in Company and performed the song on the awards show. The character Kurt Hummel, played by actor Chris Colfer, covered the song during the ninth episode, "Swan Song", of the fourth season of the television show Glee, as his audition for the fictional school NYADA. In the British soap opera EastEnders, the song is Linda Carter's (Kellie Bright) wedding song when she marries Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) on New Year's Day 2016, and is performed by a woman.The song was also sung, and played on the piano by Alex (Judd Hirsch) in the US sitcom 'Taxi" series 2 Episode 21,'Alex jumps out of a plane'

Background[edit]

By the time "Being Alive" premiered in 1970, lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim had already been recognized with three Tony Awards Best Musical nominations and one winner.[4] He had musicals West Side Story (1958) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963) already to his credit. When Sondheim came around to “transform the American Musical” with the “concept musical”,[5] Company won six Tony Awards of its own.[6] However, "Being Alive" has not always been Company's famous finale. There were four attempts to fill this gap in the show, and still, according to cultural critic Jeremy McCarter, “Sondheim has never been satisfied with the result, calling [“Being Alive”] ‘a cop-out.’” [2]

The first of these attempts was with a song entitled "Multitudes of Amys", but as Sondheim describes “George Furth [author] transferred the situation in which it was to be sung – Robert’s proposal to Amy – to Act One and the song had to be replaced.” [5] The second attempt was “Marry Me A Little.” Sondheim commented that on this try he knew halfway through the writing process that it would not work for the character, and the only reason he finished the song was as “a favor for a friend who loved it.” [5] The third attempt came with “Happily Ever After”, which even made it to the Boston tryout before it had to be replaced because it was “deemed too dark to serve as a closing number.” [2] Hence, Sondheim’s fourth and final attempt was made with "Being Alive", in which he tried to express the same thoughts as “Happily Ever After”, but in a more optimistic way.[5] Finally, "Being Alive" has become the recognized internationally acclaimed closing to Sondheim’s Company.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Blanchard, Jane M. "Bustling, robust 'Company' Sondheim musical seldom misses a beat. 21 May 2002". The Washington Times. 
  2. ^ a b c Jeremy McCarter. “It's The Little Things.” New York Media, LLC. November 30, 2006. Web. 6 April 2011. [1]
  3. ^ a b c d e f Flahaven, Sean Patrick (2007). Company Synopsis. Liner Notes: Nonesuch Records Inc., a Warner Music Group Company. 
  4. ^ “Stephen Sondheim.” The Broadway League. Internet Broadway Database. Web. 29 March 2011. [2]
  5. ^ a b c d “Being Alive.” Carlin America. Carlin America. Web. 6 April 2011. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  6. ^ “Company.” The Broadway League. Internet Broadway Database. Web. 6 April 2011. [3]