The Little Things You Do Together by The Original Broadway Cast of Steven Sondheim’s Company.
I heard this on the radio the other day and enjoyed it. I’m only marginally familiar with the work of Steven Sondheim, composer and lyricist for a number of Broadway shows, the most famous of which would probably be West Side Story. I do, however, enjoy his songs when I hear them.
I was never much of a musical fan as a youth, although I did make an exception for Jesus Christ Superstar, which I still love. As I’ve gotten older, though, my opinion has changed. The main criticism lobbied at them is that they are often cheesy, campy, over the top, implausible, etc. All of these things are true, and what I think I’m beginning to realize is that all these things are where the appeal lies for those who really enjoy them. They are goofy and dumb, and that’s how they are supposed to be. Light entertainment.
The place where the real sophistication lies, obviously, is in the music. The rhythm, the melody, and the way the words are set to the music are what make this song interesting to me. It certainly isn’t the message being conveyed by the actual lyrical content and how it relates to the story. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the plot of the show:
Originally entitled Threes, its plot revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends. Unlike most book musicals, which follow a clearly delineated plot, Company is a concept musical composed of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order, linked by a celebration for Bobby’s 35th birthday.
Company was among the first musicals to deal with adult problems through its music. As Sondheim put it, “Company does deal with upper middle-class people with upper middle-class problems. Broadway theater has been for many years supported by those people. They really want to escape, and here we’re saying we’ll bring it right back in their faces … what they came to a musical to avoid, they suddenly find facing them on the stage.”
This is the kind of thing that hasn’t really aged all that well. Despite the general turmoil of the time period here in the US (1970), the subject matter is incredibly vapid, but ultimately it reflects a particular lifestyle (that of the well-to-do 30-ish white person) that ranked high in cultural value at the time. In a way it still does, I suppose, although the preferred age has slowly sunk downward.
Anyway, enough of that. I like the music. I also like seeing this snapshot of how they recorded it. I don’t know if this is still the way that Broadway cast recordings are done, but my guess is that things work differently these days. There’s an energy here that is a direct result of having so many people around and recording it all live. I like seeing the people responsible for the show sitting around the control room discussing the finer points of the performance, and I also like seeing the cast huddled around the mics doing their best to convey the same emotions they do on stage but without the audience to play to.
The footage comes from a movie called Original Cast Album: Company, directed by legendary documentary film maker D.A. Pennebaker, of Bob Dylan and Montery Pop Festival fame, among others. There are other clips of the different songs also available on YouTube. This one of the song “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” (which I heard on the radio immediately following the first song) features some more behind the scenes stuff from Mr. Sondheim and other folks involved in the making of the record, including the cast messing up a take and Mr. Sondheim coaching one of the singers on the proper way to pronounce “bubbi”.