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Company Rewritten
by S. Woody White

An Opinionated and Irreverent Revue of the Differences Between the Original 1970 and Revised 1996 Scripts of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Musical Comedy.

Gay Issues

"Why are his trousers vermilion?
Why does he claim he's Castilian?
Why do his friends call him Lillian?"

Stephen Sondheim & Mary Rogers, "The Boy From..."

For some reason, a number of historical revisionists insist that Robert must be a gay character. Obviously, anyone who hasn't married by the time they are thirty-five must be homosexual, right? Stuff and poppycock. Company was written in 1970, just one year after the Stonewall riots and two years after Matt Crowley's The Boys in the Band. The notion that Robert is actually a gay character defies the logic of the era in which Company was written, an era that really did subscribe to the theory of "don't ask, don't tell".

Take another look at the lyric above. A list of "obviously nellie" traits that the woman singing the song still cannot decipher regarding the man of her desire's orientation. The song was written in the middle Sixties, pre-Stonewall. This would indicate that Sondheim was fully capable of writing about what was happening to gay men at the time Company was written. If he and George Furth had intended Robert to be gay, they would have written him as such.

That having been said, let's move on to the revised script.

The Go-Away-Gay-Fag-Bag Rag

The original lyric for "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" includes the passage:

I could understand a person if it's not a person's bag
I could understand a person if a person was a fag.

The revised passage reads:

I could understand a person if he said to go away
I could understand a person if he happened to be gay

This is the one place in the show where Sondheim, rather than Furth, makes a revision, and thank God he did, because the old lyric was horribly dated. I mean, no one ever uses the word "bag" to designate "that collection of things one is interested in" any more. Current slang tends more towards using the word as a verb, as in "He bagged himself a trophy wife." The new line, "if he said to go away," is much better.

All right, I'm mostly kidding there. The real controversy is with the other change, from "if a person was a fag" to "if he happened to be gay."

In 1970, the word "gay" to denote homosexual was just starting to be understood by the general public. The word "fag" on the other hand was considered impolite and derogatory, but was acceptable by the majority of the public. After all, despite what Kinsey had said in his report, no one actually knew anyone who was "homosexual". The gay community was still invisible. The riots that had taken place outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City the year before had gone unnoticed by mainstream America. Further, very few people used the word "gay." They said "homosexual." Or "queer." "Sissy." "Fairy." "Pansy." "Fag."

With the advent of Gay Liberation, people have become more aware of how hurtful these words could be, but the real coupe de gras came with the advent of "political correctness." The notion of political correctness goes far beyond simply minding one's manners when speaking. It is the fine art of taking offence where none was intended. It showed up in 1992, during the Carnegie Hall concert, when Dorothy Loudon changed the lyric of this song from "if a person was a fag" to "...was a drag," with just enough of a hesitation to make sure everyone knew what she was doing. She did a very good job, and got a great laugh for her efforts. But the need for a new lyric was evident, and the change was made for the 1995 production of Company at the Roundabout. Now, no one ever need be offended by a word that was common when the play was originally written.

In a kind of sweet revenge, the words "fag" and "queer" are now being used by some of the more radical members of the gay community to describe themselves to the world. What goes around comes around.

Second Balcony Scene

Now let's get to the really controversial stuff. There's been some rewriting in the first half of this scene, getting the dialogue sharper. It's basically the same scene we had before, with Peter and Susan telling about how they are now divorced, but at the same time Peter is still living with Susan because of his "responsibilities," and that he would never leave his family. Then Susan takes Marta inside to fix lunch, and all hell breaks loose.

What, you didn't know there was a second half to this scene? There was, in an early draft of the show, which is what has been reinstated as follows: After a moment of chatter commenting on how he loves young people, Peter suddenly asks Robert if he has ever had an adult homosexual experience. Robert says yes, but he's not gay. Then Peter claims that he isn't gay, either, but that he's "done it more than once," and makes a pass at Robert, because friends should have that kind of intimacy. Robert decides that Peter may be just putting him on, laughs it off, and exits. Oops. That silent sound you hear is a total lack of laughter.

The scene is so wrong it isn't funny in any sense of the word. It isn't wrong for Peter being gay, or at least bisexual. That would actually explain a lot about the divorce. What is wrong is that this scene turns Peter into an inept sexual predator, and the predatory instinct is not what Company is about. Company is about forming and maintaining relationships.

If I had the right, which I do not, I would rewrite the scene as follows: Robert confronts Peter, wanting to know why he and Susan divorced. Peter tells Robert that he married Susan because he loves her, and thought she could make him straight. She couldn't. When she found out, she fainted six times, a new record for her. They both cried, and then they discovered that this honesty was just what their relationship needed. Peter is gay, but he will never leave Susan. He needs this wonderful woman in his life, and always will. Robert, stunned, wishes he had known. Then Peter tells Robert that he's seeing someone, and that Susan really likes the guy. The three of them are thinking of finding a bigger place. (I know it's lame, but it ties in with April's new exit line in the Park Bench scene.)

But, of course, I don't have the right to rewrite Furth's dialogue, so let's just cut the scene off where Marta says that this is why she loves New York, and leave it at that. It's simpler that way, or as Susan would say, "Nicer".

Part Five: The Robert Problem ››

Discuss this in Finishing the Chat,'s discussion forum.



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“I found [the Sondheim Celebration's Company] to be completely delightful. Almost all of the numbers excited and energized me, and most of the scenes were about as pitch-perfect as you can get. I just sat there with a big smile on my face the whole show.

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