George Furth wrote eleven one-act plays planned for Kim Stanley as each of the separate leads. Hollywood actor Anthony Perkins, interested in directing, asked Sondheim to read the material. After Sondheim read the plays, Sondheim asked Harold Prince for his opinion; Prince thought the plays could form the basis for a musical. The theme would be New York marriages with a central character to examine those marriages. Originally titled “Threes”, its plot revolves around Bobby, a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage, four married couples, and one single couple, who are his best friends, and also includes Bobby’s three free-wheeling girl friends.
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 themes and relationships. As Sondheim puts it, “Broadway theater has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, and then here we are with ‘Company’ talking about how we’re going to bring it right back in their faces.” “Company” opened in Boston in out-of-town tryouts, receiving mixed reviews, from the Boston Evening Globe “Brilliant”, to Variety Magazine “The songs are for the most part undistinguished” and “As it stands now it’s for ladies’ matinees, homos and misogynists.” The book was by Furth; Lyrics and music was by Stephen Sondheim; direction was by Prince.
“Company” opened on April 26, 1970, at the Alvin Theatre in New York City, where it ran for 705 performances after seven previews. Musical staging was by Michael Bennett, assisted by Bob Avian. The set design by Boris Aronson consisted of two working elevators and various vertical platforms that emphasized the musical’s theme of isolation. “Company” was honored with the following theatre awards: the 1971 New York Drama Desk Award for (1) Outstanding Book of a Musical awarded to Furth; (2) Outstanding Director of a Musical awarded to Harold Prince; (3) Outstanding Lyrics and (4) Outstanding Music awarded to Stephen Sondheim; (5) Outstanding Set Design was awarded to Boris Aronson. The New York Theatre World Award was awarded to actor Susan Browning. In an unusual move, the Tony Awards committee deemed Larry Kert eligible for a nomination, an honor usually reserved for the actor (Dean Jones, in this case) who technically originates a role.
The musical was nominated for a record setting 14 Tony Award Nominations and won six. “Company” won the (1) Tony Award for Best Musical; (2) Tony Award Best Score (music) and (3) Tony Award Best Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; (4) Tony Award Best Book of a Musical by George Furth; (5) Tony Award Best Direction for a Musical by Harold Prince; (6) Tony Award Best Scenic Design by Boris Aronson; Nominated for Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (7) Larry Kert; Nominated for Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (8) Elaine Stritch and (9) Susan Browning; Nominated for Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (10) Charles Kimbrough; Nominated for Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (11) Barbara Barrie and (12) Pamela Myers; Nominated for Tony Award Best Choreography (13) Michael Bennett; Nominated for Tony Award Best Lighting Design (14) Robert Ornbo. (In the early 1990s, Furth and Sondheim revised the libretto, cutting and altering dialogue that had become dated and rewriting the end to act one.)
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