Honorable mentions: “Someone is Waiting,” “Company”
“What do you get?”
This is the third song in a row about marriage, and while that’s totally unintentional, it’s created an interesting streak in this series not unlike a sparkly striation in an otherwise dull rock. “Now/Later/Soon” is getting less than you bargained for in your marriage; “Nobody Needs to Know” is about getting away from, or maybe out of, your marriage. “Being Alive” is unlike either of the two previous songs. It’s hopeful. “Now/Later/Soon” is an urbane sigh, and “Nobody Needs to Know” a nearly grunted exhalation. “Being Alive” is about breathing in. If there’s exhaustion, it’s because being single has exhausted Bobby, not because he blames some woman for having done it for him.
There’s a reason I have Raul Esparza up there in the link, and not Larry Kert or Dean Jones or Neil Patrick Harris. Esparza is the best singer of the bunch, by a lot; he is somehow underappreciated, a remarkably versatile voice who can go from lighthearted to heartrending in the time it takes to flip the sheet music. At 2:55 in that video up there, Esparza practically whispers the change in the song. It’s not just “someone,” but “somebody.” When “someone” holds you too close, it’s an attractive option, but not essential. There is such feeling, though, in the hope of a somebody (“not just some body,” as a character says earlier in the show) to be with you. It’s almost childlike, the voice of child who has had a bad dream but not a nightmare, something merely unsettling. Or someone, maybe, who has watched a distant relative die in the hospital. Bobby, who seems so slow on the uptake throughout most of the play, has finally learned something.
This is the last Stephen Sondheim song on the list; after making a point to pound home the presence of a Sondheim number every time one came up (and doing that hardly at all with anyone else), it is meet that the authorship is brought up here too. Weirdly enough, this feels like the kind of song that just about anyone who can get a musical to Broadway could have written. The flair that I typically associate with Sondheim is not missing, precisely. These are beautiful lyrics, and the recognition of a difference between “someone” and “somebody” is not something that I’d look for in many other musicals. Yet this song is not tricky or difficult. It is tailor-made for belting, even if that’s the wrong move in a real performance. It’s simply lovely, one of the five or six key male solos in musical theater, and for good reason. There’s hope there, but without any of the cloying aftertaste or the simpering affectation; it’s hope with muscles, hope for the genuine change that’s so often missing from real life but which blooms liberally on stage.