In tribute to Stephen Sondheim, on ‘Being Alive’

In tribute to Stephen Sondheim, on ‘Being Alive’

In tribute to Stephen Sondheim, who died Friday early morning, November 26, at the age of 91, we republish this essay with video clips about a person of the lots of good tunes he left us—and its new meaning now. —Editors

In tribute to Stephen Sondheim, on ‘Being Alive’
Stephen Sondheim (March 22, 1930 – November 26, 2021)

At first revealed February 2, 2021

In January, a 35-12 months-outdated, solitary Londoner named Gagan Bhatnagar talked to The New York Periods about the one of a kind psychological challenge of enduring the coronavirus pandemic as a one individual (“A Pandemic Is Hard Ample. For Some, Staying One Has Designed It Tougher”).

“The first handful of months I assumed: ‘This is Alright, I can perform on myself,’” Bhatnagar explained to the Times. “But then it just dragged on. Just one working day I understood it had been a few months since I had touched a human staying.”

Looking at Bhatnagar’s account, I can not aid but believe of Broadway’s most well known bachelor, Bobby, the principal character in Corporation, Sondheim’s 1970 musical about the pleasures and perils of marriage (Bobby the bachelor was reimagined as Bobbie the bachelorette in a witty and welcome 2018 revival).

DC Metro Theater Arts graphic.

In “Being Alive,” the closing quantity from Act II of Corporation, Bobby, a single New Yorker who feels on your own on his 35th birthday get together, sings a bitter discourse on marriage:

Anyone to maintain you also close,
Somebody to harm you far too deep,
A person to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep…

An individual to require you much too a great deal,
Someone to know you also nicely,
Someone to pull you up short
And place you by way of hell…

But the tone and the textual content of the tune change as Bobby little by little sheds his cynicism and embraces his vulnerability. “Someone to keep you much too close” moves to “Somebody keep me far too near,” and his preliminary anger becomes an urgent plea:

Somebody hold me much too close,
Any person damage me as well deep,
Any individual sit in my chair
And damage my slumber and make me knowledgeable
Of becoming alive, remaining alive.

Any individual need me far too much,
Someone know me too properly,
Any individual pull me up quick
And place me via hell and give me assistance
For being alive.

For Bobby, obtaining anyone to adore results in being, in the phrases of Sondheim scholar Sandor Goodhart, a matter of “existential survival.”

I never recognized how superior the stakes were in this tune until finally now, as we creep up on the yr anniversary of the pandemic and its compelled social isolation.

The ending of Sondheim’s musical is (typically) ambiguous, and it’s not clear no matter whether Bobby finds a husband or wife or merely leaves his birthday occasion and resumes his lifestyle between a “city of strangers.”

But as the pandemic has made clearer, loneliness exacts a bitter cost. We humans are social animals, and, as Martin Buber famously said, “life is assembly.”

In that spirit, let me share with you my top 10 variations of “Being Alive,” in no unique purchase, all of which you can now find on YouTube.

So a lot of wonderful performers, adult males and females alike, have put their particular person stamp on this track, and each and every of these renditions reveals some thing diverse, from Adam Driver’s hunting to Bernadette Peters’s doubt to Raúl Esperza’s anger.

Dean Jones

The initial Bobby, former Disney star Dean Jones, puts his complete staying into this track. I adore when the relaxation of the unique forged, together with Elaine Stritch, there in the studio to record the forged album, bursts into spontaneous applause for Jones correct right after he nails that final notice, a G#.

Julian Ovenden at?v=_JrRGcu-I5k

What a journey Ovenden requires you on in this version, stay from the BBC Proms 2010 – Sondheim at 80 concert. I appreciate the slow buildup to the big finish listed here. (Was that the Howard Dean scream at the incredibly conclude?)

Adam Driver out?v=lWengrlMpok

This is the version, from Driver’s 2019 film Relationship Story, with which the public (i.e. non-Broadway fanatics) is likely most common. Although Driver isn’t pretty singing in this article — this is much more of a recitative — his exploration of every single word and syllable in this song brings the audience closer to Sondheim’s text than maybe any other edition.

Patti LuPone out?v=0eZ8Lvg3skw

Patti LuPone’s variation is technically flawless. I just would like she confirmed a small extra vulnerability right here, obtained in nearer touch with the character.  To me, this appears like Evita singing “Being Alive.” But wow, individuals pipes.

Neil Patrick Harris at?v=RbAfu6PNDbM

Neil Patrick Harris is a thoroughly convincing Bobby. See the tears faintly swelling in his eyes all through this general performance.

Bernadette Peters

I have heard Peters complete “Being Alive” many occasions in live performance, and it’s obvious why her variation provides down the residence every single solitary time, no matter if it’s an intimate venue or Carnegie Corridor. Discover how her voice breaks just a tiny on the penultimate phrase in the track. That is acting, folks.

Barbra Streisand

This reside version from 2016 is like butter. As Streisand’s voice ages (she’s 78), she imparts this music with a lot more truth of the matter, knowledge, and vulnerability.

Rosalie Craig

Craig, the star of the 2018 gender-swapping revival, is endearing here. I obtain myself rooting for her Bobbie to locate pleasure.

Ramin Karimloo

Karimloo, a former Phantom, is 1 of the finest male singers on Broadway, and this variation displays you why.

Raúl Esperza

This is “Being Alive” par excellence. Esperza’s soreness is palpable here, and no other performer has taken larger challenges with Sondheim’s track. If I experienced to pick just one variation of “Being Alive” to advocate, this would be it.

Bonus: Norm Lewis

Talk about spectacular array: Norm Lewis, the most formidable Javert, melts your heart in this excerpted version of “Being Alive,” a promo for Signature Theatre’s Basically Sondheim revue (now playing by March 26, 2021, in High definition on Marquee Tv set).