Matthew Scott is wowing audiences and critics with his performance as Bobby in Signature Theatre’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. I am a big fan of Matthew’s and I was so delighted when I heard he was going to play Bobby.
Joel: What does Company have to say to today’s audiences?
Matthew: With the never ending marriage debate in our country, there has never been a better time for Company. This show examines the issue from all angles, but never really gets political. It allows you to decide for yourself what a true marriage is. It’s funny and sweet and in some ways still as eye opening as it was in 1971.
Why did you want to play Bobby in this production at Signature? Have you played the role before, and if yes, how is this portrayal of Bobby different in the Signature production?
No, I have never played the role before. I did a scene from Company when I was in college. In fact, during rehearsals I used the script that I purchased at the Carnegie Mellon book store ten years ago. So, I guess I was hanging on in hopes of playing the role one day. However, when Eric approached me about playing Bobby back in October, I was really quite conflicted. “Already,” I thought. I never expected to just be offered the part and I didn’t think I was “there” yet. But, when Eric told me that he was going to use married couples and started rattling off the names of all of my wonderful Signature friends who would be participating, I began to get really excited. I knew this production would be different because it would be one big party onstage every night. I don’t know how different my portrayal is than anyone else; I certainly haven’t seen every production of Company. Though to be honest, I have seen more than a few. All I can say is that my “Bobby” is true to me and who I am and where I am in my life right now. Just as I am sure many other actors who have played the role have found, you have to bring yourself into the equation to make this character feel three dimensional.
How do you relate to Bobby? What personal experiences did you bring when you were working with Director Eric Schaeffer on shaping your performance? What was the most helpful advice and/or suggestions he gave you that helped shape your performance?
How I relate to this character is very personal to me. I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop out, but let’s just say that it wasn’t easy to find and once I did, I vowed I would hold it close to my heart throughout the run. It’s what drives me each night. I will say that Eric was very clear that he didn’t want Bobby to get too dark. My tendency in the beginning was to really dig into why this character was hurting, to bring that to the forefront. But, the more we explored that, the more we agreed it wasn’t working. I asked Eric very early on to really be on top of me if he saw me going there. We ultimately decided that Robert is not just an observer in these marriages but rather a willing participant. Someone you want to have over for dinner, to play with your kids, to drag to the opera. He makes every event more special just by being there. In order to do that, I had to establish a very real bond with each couple. Nightly, we make each other laugh and smile in ways that I am sure are undetectable to anyone but us. It’s what makes the show so much fun to do and why it works, I think.
You sang “Being Alive” when you performed in Side by Side by Sondheim here at Signature two years ago. Now that you are playing Bobby in Company here at Signature, how has the meaning of this song changed for you? What do we learn about Bobby by the time he sings “Being Alive” and what does Bobby learn about himself by the time he sings it?
The version of “Being Alive” which I sang in Side By Side was only half of the actual song. It didn’t include the first part in which the couples are prodding Bobby. I always wished we could have used that in Side By Side. It’s really that first half of the song which sets up Robert’s big “epiphany,” if you will. Sondheim describes the song very simply. He says, “Urged by their voices, what starts as a complaint becomes a prayer.” The beautiful thing about this song is that it effects people on many different levels. Some people believe that Robert moves on with his life, leaving his friends behind. Some think he vows to not be alone and start living a fuller life by exploring his true needs and desires. I think it is very simple. Robert has been living life in an altered state for way too long. Booze, meaningless flings, and drugs can only fill the void for so long. His encounter with Joanne at the disco sobers him up and pushes him over the edge. Truthfully, I don’t know where he goes from there. I’d be very interested to see the sequel.
You also have another amazing solo in Company – “Marry Me a Little.” What do we learn about Bobby when he sings “Marry Me a Little?” How has he changed and/or what has he learned about himself by the time he sings this song? Why is this song so effective as the closer of the first act?
Well, as you probably know, this song didn’t always close the first act of Company. It was added to the 1995 Roundabout Revival which is the version of the show that is licensed. Sondheim was halfway through writing “Marry Me A Little” when he realized that if Bobby could articulate how he felt about Amy, who the song was originally intended to be sung to, then he already knew too much and would have nowhere to go. It was scrapped for the original but placed in the first revival to close Act I. I personally LOVE this song. But, it’s also tricky. It’s dangerously close to treading on “Being Alive” territory. You hear Robert sing the lyrics “I’m ready” multiple times in the song. In actuality, he is deceiving himself by laying out his plan for what a marriage ought to be. Unfortunately, his ideas are fraught with contradictions, and if the audience is really listening they will hear that, especially anyone who is or has been married. They know that’s just not how it works. The song is, however, a great halfway point for the character. He is working through things but he’s still got a ways to go. I love how the song directly references his observations, the same ones we as the audience observe as well.
You sang “Multitudes of Amys” in Sondheim on Sondheim. The song was the original “finale” when the show opened in 1971, and then was quickly replaced by “Being Alive.” (“Marry Me a Little” then became the first act closer). If you had an opportunity to sing “Multitudes of Amy” as the finale in a performance/production of Company, how would you respond to a director who asked you, “Why should we use this song? What will it add to the story?”
“Multitudes of Amys” was one of Sondheim’s favorite pieces, but it was only there because in the original concept for the show Amy did not marry Paul at the end of Act I and Robert decides to propose to her at the end of the show. Ultimately, Amy does marry Paul, so the song no longer made sense and it was scrapped. I personally cannot imagine the song ever making its way back into the show. “Being Alive” has become an anthem of sorts, and I can’t see Sondheim agreeing to such a change. Furthermore, in order for “Multitudes” to work, Amy cannot be with Paul, you’d have to change the end of Act I. It is already somewhat unsettling that Robert proposes to Amy immediately after she has temporarily ended things with Paul. Can you imagine if he proposed while they were actually married? I realize of course your question is hypothetical but I don’t think I could foresee such a radical change occurring.
What are your favorite lyrics in Company (from any song in the score)? And why?
I don’t think I can answer that. I’ll give you the first one that comes to mind. It is the simple change from “Someone to hold you too close” to “Somebody hold me too close.” The meaning of the song changes in an instant. It’s also one of my favorite lyrical set ups ever. It happens after Robert proposes to Amy. She says, “It’s just that you have to want to marry somebody, not just somebody.”
If you were Bobby’s therapist – what 3 things would you strongly suggest to him he change right away to make his life happier?
Ha! Maybe I should ask my own therapist this question and get back to you.
Why do you think Company is still so popular among Sondheim fans and audiences? What has surprised you most about the audience reactions so far?
We have had absolutely amazing audiences our entire run. I think they are drawn to the score, because it is all so genius. It has endured these 40 years. And clearly the Signature audiences love Sondheim. But, I think they are surprised by how engaging the book scenes are. Furth’s writing really pulls you in and makes you feel like you know these couples. The writing is sharp, and funny, acidic, but also quite lovely. There are some really beautiful moments in the show that illuminate just how complicated marriage is but also why it is so important.
How would you describe a Sondheim song? How would you describe his score for Company?
They are treasure maps. It you examine them closely they lead you exactly where you need to go. All the clues are there.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor and singer while performing this role?
I always learn something after working on a show. This time, I’ve learned it’s important to not take myself so seriously. Play. Have fun. It seems so basic, but every once in a while you need to be reminded of that. That’s what this show has done for me.
You have so many great co-stars in this production. What has been the most fun working with them, and what is your favorite performance and/or song performed by your other co-stars?
Everyone brings themselves and their own unique wit to their roles. I love all them dearly, and I LOVE watching them work every night. I didn’t know Erin Weaver beforehand, but I had seen her in Xanadu and thought she was incredible. I have to say that I have always loved the Robert/Amy dynamic and I was very excited she was playing the role. I look forward to our brief time on stage every night because she inevitably roots me back in to the world of the play. She totally sets me up for “Marry Me a Little.”
What advice would you give to a young actor who is preparing to play Bobby for the first time?
Oh man, I have NO IDEA. It’s an individual journey. People tried to tell help me out in the months leading up to rehearsal and I really appreciated it, but ultimately I had to find it myself. That’s the only way.
If you could write a happy ending for Bobby and his friends, what would it be?
I think the end of the show is happy. I don’t necessarily know that everyone feels the same. But, I think everyone moves on. Some relationships remain in tact and some do not. Sometimes friendships run their course and that is okay. People outgrow one another. Robert needs to move on from some of these people in order to grow. And his friends realize this as well. That is why they choose to give him space and leave the apartment at the end of the show. They get it.
Company plays through June 30, 2013 at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. To purchase tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or order them online.
LINK David Friscic’s review of Company.