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 two 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]

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..."[2] along with the relationships he has with three of his "girlfriends—April, Kathy, and Marta..."[2] 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".[2]
"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."[2]
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."[2]

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."[2] 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."

Background[edit]

"Being Alive" was only used after three previous closing numbers had been tried. The first of these attempts was with a song entitled "Multitudes of Amys", but as Sondheim describes, Furth "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".[3] Company won six Tony Awards of its own.[4] 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."[3] The third attempt came with "Happily Ever After," which even made it to the Boston tryout before it was "deemed too dark to serve as a closing number."[5] 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.[3]

Sondheim was initially reluctant to write a closing song with a more positive tone, and made efforts to write a composition that would combine cynical and hopeful sentiments. He wrote in his 2009 memoir Finishing the Hat that he worried a plainly optimistic approach would be "unearned and pandering, not to mention monotonous, since there would be only one thing to say: namely, marriage is wonderful". His concerns were resolved when "Michael Bennett came up with the idea of using the same technique of interlaced spoken voices from Robert's friends that we used in 'Side by Side by Side,' helping him break through his moment of crisis. That suggested to me a song which could progress from complaint to prayer. Thus, 'Being Alive.'"[6]

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. Jones's tenure playing the part was short lived, and a recording of his replacement Larry Kert performing "Being Alive" has been included as a bonus track on subsequent re-releases of the original cast album.

"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, Dusty Springfield, 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 West End star Alice Fearn. The song also appears on her album "Where I've Been... Where I'm Going". 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'

The American composer Gabriel Kahane wrote a piano scherzo, "Being Alive", for Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano which was inspired by the Sondheim song.[7]

In the 2019 film Marriage Story, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, lead character Charlie Barber (portrayed by Adam Driver) performs much of the song in a New York piano bar.[8][9]

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 d e f Flahaven, Sean Patrick (2007). Company Synopsis. Liner Notes: Nonesuch Records Inc., a Warner Music Group Company.
  3. ^ a b c "Being Alive." Carlin America. Carlin America. Web. April 6, 2011. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 6, 2012. Retrieved April 7, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Company." The Broadway League. Internet Broadway Database. Web. April 6, 2011. [1]
  5. ^ Jeremy McCarter. "It's The Little Things." New York Media, LLC. November 30, 2006. Web. April 6, 2011. [2]
  6. ^ Sondheim, Stephen (2009). Finishing the hat: Collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. New York, NY, USA: Knopf. p. 196. ISBN 0679439072.
  7. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (April 23, 2012). "Anthony de Mare's 'Liaisons: Reimaging Sondheim'". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Specter, Emma (November 19, 2019), "Adam Driver Singing Sondheim in Marriage Story Deserves Every Award", Vogue
  9. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (November 15, 2019), "Marriage Story review – everything you always wanted to know about divorce", The Guardian