May is a mad month. A month of random musings about various topics related to musical theatre. Feel free to share your thoughts on each topic in the comment box below.
Is Bobby Gay?
Stephen Sondheim says no. Arthur Laurents says yes – even though it’s George Furth’s book, not his. Some people say it doesn’t matter. But of course it matters.
Company isn’t a coming out story. If it were, the show wouldn’t be focused on Bobby’s observations on the marriages of his friends, it would be focused on something else. If Bobby is avoiding making a commitment to one of the women in his life because he’s gay – put otherwise, simply because he’d rather be in a relationship with a man – then the point of the show is moot. Bobby is afraid of the idea of commitment, of losing himself within the dynamic of marriage. That’s why he doesn’t commit to one of the many women in his life, not because he’s gay. If being gay was the reason for Bobby’s reluctance to marry a woman, then we’d have a different play on our hands. Unless we also saw him struggling with the idea of commitment within a male-male relationship too, the show would not be able to make the meaning it was intended to make – and there simply isn’t enough in the text as written to support that kind of a reading.
So, no, Bobby is not gay.
Where do you stand on the issue? Offer your opinions in the comment box, please!
Here’s an interesting article which briefly mentions a 2002 production directed by Billy Porter in which Marta was changed to Marty. This made clear that Bobby’s resistance was to a committed relationship, not specifically to one with a woman.
It see the article says that the changes were approved by Stephen Sondheim. I’d love to know what George Furth thought about them. (That said the current version of the book of Company is a bit messy with the attempts to update the 1970s references jarring with the 1970s references that remain in the lyrics. I wonder whether the updates will simply fall away as we get more comfortable seeing the 1970s as a distinct “period”, making Company a period show that has themes that resonate with our lives today – much in the way that South Pacific or Cabaret do.)
Interesting, also, to see that Bobby was played by Telly Leung who is currently on Broadway in Godspell!
I think he is gay, and that the awkward scene where Bobby talks about gay experiences with one of his friends added in the 1995 revision was Sondheim and Furth’s little way of deliberately thumbing their nose at everyone’s “Bobby was gay” theory, saying, “NO! NO! F*CK YOU! HE’S NOT GAY, ‘CAUSE WE SAID SO! :P”
In all reality, even back in the 1970s, marriage was not highly valued. Bear in mind, this show was then set during the dawn of the Sexual Revolution, a time that cast aside traditional sexual restraints and began a decade or more of alternative eroticism, experimentation, and promiscuity. Fear of commitment after turning 30 would have been almost as out of place then as it is now. To me, it doesn’t defeat the purpose of the show for Bobby to be gay, as much as the authors argue such is the case. If anything, his being gay and sleeping with women adds more depth to his issues with commitment, and the show itself doesn’t have to be about those bigger issues for them to factor in.
Arthur Laurents certainly agreed with me. He was one of the most vociferous “Bobby is gay” theorists, and in 1973 wrote a play called The Enclave (for which Sondheim ironically wrote the incidental music) that basically told the same story, but made the Bobby character gay. I can’t speak to quality, but I can say I think it’s more true to itself.