“What do you get?! What do you get?”
Dean Jones sings “Being Alive” in D. A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary about the making of the Company Original Broadway Cast Recording. Weeks into the run of Company, Dean Jones dropped out of the play to focus his energy on his own dying marriage.
“Being Alive” is my favorite Sondheim love song, a bitter but ultimately convincing mash note to love itself. Raul Esparza performed this haunting version for the most recent Broadway revival (which you can watch in its entirety on Netflix Instant):
In Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim talks about the genesis of this number, the last song in the play:
‘Happily Ever After’ [the original finale] seemed too much of a ‘downer’ as Hal [Prince, the director] persistently called it. He fervently urged me to write an ‘up’ song to replace it, but I argued that a sudden positive song, one without any irony, would be unearned and pandering, not to mention monotonous, since there would be only one thing to say: namely, marriage is wonderful. [Choreographer] Michael Bennett came up with the idea of using the same technique of interlaced spoken voices from Robert’s friends that we had used in ‘Side by Side by Side,’ helping him to break through his moment of crisis. That suggested to me a song which could progress from complaint to prayer. Thus, ‘Being Alive.’