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Meaning of "Being Alive" from Company

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Sorry to bump such an old thread. I have interpreted "Being Alive" like everyone in this thread as Bobby (or Bobbie's) readiness to be in a relationship. 

Sondheim and Marianne Elliot have done a video explaining the song, and it's a very ambiguous explanation, stating that it's Bobbie's decision to separate from her friend group (which the final scene does suggest). Sondheim states that whatever decision Bobbie makes, it's her decision, she's going her own way "without a him about." Does he literally mean without a man? 

I understand that in general the ending is ambiguous, but I have always assumed that Bobby decides he/she is ready for a relationship, rather than being alone. If we use Sondheim's explanation, he/she makes a decision on his/her own, and it very well could be being alone? If that truly is Sondheim's interpretation, it would go along with his original desire for the show to have a more cynical/dark ending, as mentioned earlier in this thread. 

Am I reading too much into this video?

https://www.facebook.com/CompanyBway/videos/450348572280888/?q=company%20broadway&epa=SEARCH_BOX

Updated On: 11/2/19 at 03:16 PM
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Glad you bumped the thread: it reminds us of the great discussions and great people who used to be around.

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The ending is also a double edged one: Bobby decides he is ready for a mature and monogamous relationship, while also realizing that his codependency on his friends is unhealthy.

Hence why not only does he ditch his friends at his fourth thirty-fifth birthday (though I like to think the final birthday we see is thirty-six, not an alternate timeline), but his friends realize that they’ve been ditched and it’s a good sign for Bobby’s mental health. It’s all a bit BoJack Horseman... perhaps Raphael Bob Wakberg should be the one to do the screenplay adaptation for the inevitable semi-experimental film version.
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Jon said: "Fosca left out one important detail: The point in the song where it switches from "Someone to hold you too deep" to "SOMEBODY hold me too deep" comes when his friends are telling Robert to make a wish and blow out the candles on his birthday cake. "Make a wish, Robert. WANT something. Want SOMETHING."

So, the rest of the song is Robert's birthday wish.
"

I would only add to Fosca's excellent analysis that, in keeping with the obvious irony of the lyric, Robert realizes that the "negative" aspects of marriage are in fact the "positive" aspects of marriage.

***

Although until his untimely demise, Larry Kert told everyone everywhere that HE played "Robert" with the closet-gay subtext, it really cheapens the show when one actor's personal choice of subtext becomes the communal interpretation.

COMPANY is about a lot more than whether one closet case finds the guts to come out.

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One could make the case that Larry Kert did everything he did onstage with a gay subtext.

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ETA: I think I might have made a mistake; see my apology a few posts below. For the sake of not rewriting history, I leave my original post below, but moderators may feel free to delete. Sorry for the confusion!

-----------------------

Did the moderators really delete a terrific post from PalJoey? What a way to welcome him back to the main board. If it's prohibited for posters with extensive knowledge and experience from sharing things they know, that would be a big problem.

Updated On: 11/4/19 at 08:51 AM
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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#32
Posted: 11/4/19 at 11:13am
What! Are you serious?
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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#33
Posted: 11/4/19 at 12:08pm

   I hope this doesn't sound condescending, but I have never found Being Alive to be an especially opaque lyric. I don't think audiences do either. When I saw  the original and the 95 revival, after Bobby sings Somebody hold me too close, I heard "Awws" from the audience, as if to say "He finally gets it." Now that may not jibe with everyone's interpretation of the song, but its certainly one that many people take with them by the curtain.

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ljay889 said: "What! Are you serious?"

You know what - I think I might be mistaken and the post in question was on another thread. If that's the case, I offer my sincerest apology to the moderators and fellow posters.

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GavestonPS said: "Jon said: "Fosca left out one important detail: The point in the song where it switches from "Someone to hold you too deep" to "SOMEBODY hold me too deep" comes when his friends are telling Robert to make a wish and blow out the candles on his birthday cake. "Make a wish, Robert. WANT something. Want SOMETHING."

So, the rest of the song is Robert's birthday wish.
"

I would only add to Fosca's excellent analysis that, in keeping with the obvious irony of the lyric, Robert realizes that the "negative" aspects of marriage are in fact the "positive" aspects of marriage.

***

Although until his untimely demise, Larry Kert told everyone everywhere that HE played "Robert" with the closet-gay subtext, it really cheapens the show when one actor's personal choice of subtext becomes the communal interpretation.

COMPANY is about a lot more than whether one closet case finds the guts to come out.
"

Nearly everyone at the time interpreted Bobby as gay, and "Being Alive" as his coming out. I happen to think it's the only explanation that makes sense, especially as we don't see him at the end of the show with a woman but alone. Odd if "alone is alone, not alive,", but not odd if we realize that, in the early 70's, it was pretty much unthinkable to explicitly show Bobby with a man at the show's end. I realize that the authors of the show would disagree. But I think the gay sensibility of the authors came through, whether they wanted it to or not. Indeed, Mary Rodgers says the mentality expressed in "Being Alive" is Sondheim's exactly, that even "Someone to sit in your chair" is him to a t. I think Kert was more honest about Bobby than most of the creative team.

Updated On: 11/4/19 at 03:25 PM
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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#36
Posted: 11/5/19 at 11:23am

While I don't necessarily agree with joevitus' sweeping generalization that everyone thought Company was a coming out story, I will add that there is proof someone thought it was: Arthur Laurents once implied -- by pointing out the similarities between the two -- that his play, The Enclave, which premiered a few years later (with an incidental score by Sondheim, funnily enough) was braver than Company because he wasn't afraid to make his central character explicitly gay. (Or at least that's how I choose to read his comments.)

There was a whole thread about it.

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I wonder if there isn't a bit of Kuleshov effect going on, with Bobby being intentionally or accidentally underwritten so that you project yourself and your own desires and conflicts onto him. After a recent local production, I asked a few of my friends, and the gay ones almost all said that Bobby was gay, while the straight ones just said he was a swinger. I'll say this, though: it's way more plausible to read Bobby as straight today than perhaps it was in the early 1970s, given that marriage is becoming more and more optional, and that serial monogamy and openly polyamorous lifestyles are becoming increasingly common for people (of any sexual orientation) around Bobby's age.

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g.d.e.l.g.i. said: "While I don't necessarily agree with joevitus' sweeping generalization that everyone thought Companywas a coming out story, I will add that there is proof someonethought it was:Arthur Laurents once implied -- by pointing out the similarities between the two -- that his play,The Enclave, which premiered a few years later (with an incidental score by Sondheim, funnily enough) was braver thanCompanybecause he wasn't afraid to make his central character explicitly gay. (Or at least that's how I choose to read his comments.)

There was a whole thread about it.
"

I wouldn't say eevryone and their dog held this interpretation, but it was pretty common and found its way into books on musical theater as soon as the early 80's. It is common enough that Ethan Mordden felt the need to "debunk" it in his book on Sondheim's shows. Thanks for referencing the Laurents comments, by the way. I'd never heard that before, and it's appreciated.

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I think that's an interesting take, darquegk.

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I admit that once or twice, just to see if I'd get physically slapped by Sondheim, I've thought of staging a version of Company that wouldn't change a word or a note, but would include a silent male roommate for Bobby who tags along on his adventures, commenting only with physical gesture or facial animation on what's going on, and then "Being Alive" ends with Bobby finally realizing what's been right in front of him all along. 

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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#41
Posted: 11/6/19 at 10:41am

That would be pretty cool, actually.

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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#42
Posted: 11/6/19 at 11:25am

I don't know... you go that far and you've pushed it past "self discovery" or "in denial" and into Rod in Avenue Q (or Roy Cohn in Angels in America) territory. At that point, Bobby knows, his FRIENDS know, and it makes him into almost a pathetic, quasi-villainous figure trying to brute-force his way through being in a 100% transparent closet on the grounds of "it's not gay until I say it's gay."

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re: Meaning of 'Being Alive' from Company#43
Posted: 11/6/19 at 12:23pm

It's alright, gang, I swapped that out for a slightly easier dream: taking the published edition of the gender-bent Company and splicing it with the "original," so to speak, so we can finally deal with a gay Bobbie instead of a ridiculous emphasis on her biological clock and a weird apparent reinterpretation of "Being Alive" as being alone.

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I always thought it was about self love and acceptance. How we are our own best friends, that sort of thing.

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It's alright, gang, I swapped that out for a slightly easier dream: taking the published edition of the gender-bent Company and splicing it with the "original," so to speak, so we can finally deal with a gay Bobbie instead of a ridiculous emphasis on her biological clock and a weird apparent reinterpretation of "Being Alive" as being alone.

The biological clock bit wasn't really an "emphasis" (it's really a subtle nod to the expression more than anything else) and I'm not sure why it's ridiculous when it's still a relevant topic that effects women (especially when they continue to feel pressured by antiquated societal norms).  I still have friends who flip out about it.

And I didn't get that "Being Alive" means being alone from this revival (nor have I ever gotten that from this show), so I wouldn't say it's any sort of apparent reinterpretation.  Obviously, there have been many differing interpretations since 1970 and perhaps it's what some people want the show to mean just as you want it to mean something else.  To me, the ending is Bobby(ie)'s realization that "being alive" might mean what his/her friends all have that (s)he's been trying to avoid (either consciously or unconsciously) for so long.  And perhaps (s)he felt alive only when with his/her friends by experiencing their relationships through them, but perhaps (s)he was never truly "alive" because (s)he was carefully and conveniently avoiding the most relevant aspects of "being alive" in a personal relationship.  So to me, Bobby(ie) chooses to embark on his/her own new journey for being alive which, in context of the show, would mean with a partner/mate/spouse (of any gender, really) rather than with his/her friends.  It's not about BEING ALONE.  It's about self-discovery and a need for change, which can be terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
Updated On: 11/6/19 at 03:21 PM

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