Examining Marriage in Sondheim's Iconic Company

Playing the lead of Robert or Bobby in Stephen Sondheim’s Company was both a dream come true and a stretch, says actor and dancer Keith Pinto. In Company, which won seven Tony Awards in 1970 and was considered something new in musical theater- a dark, sleek comedy, it’s Bobby’s 35th birthday, and he’s joined by all his married friends, thinking both about his bachelorhood and their relationships and what is good — or not — about marriage.

“Bobby’s got a lot going on really in his head, and he’s trying to figure his life out, and that’s reflected in music,” Pinto said. “The music, especially in an emotional piece like this, tells you what the character is going through.”

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Company is all about observation, Pinto says — both Bobby’s of his friends and his friends’ of him.

“These couples — they’re his family,” Pinto says. “He’s looking at what he’s missing and picking out aspects of their relationships, using them as an excuse not to be in one or as something to aspire to.”

The show feels fresh and contemporary because of Sondheim’s genius and because the themes are universal, Pinto thinks. 

“It’s about relationships and marriage, and when is the right time to get married,” he says. “That’s still current.”

Pinto is married to Alison Ewing (who he proudly points out is currently in Mamma Mia! on Broadway), and he says he and the cast had discussions with director Susi Damilano about marriage. 

“Something we talk a lot is about the contracts we make with our significant others, whether they’re unspoken or spoken,” he said. “When you’re carving out your life, what does it mean when you add another person to it?”

Along with musical theater, which he’s been doing since sixth grade, Pinto also teaches hip hop dance at San Jose State and co-founded Felonious, a hip hop and theater group. He has no problem going from Sondheim to performing with LL Cool J or De La Soul, which Felonious has done.

“I didn’t feel like out of place doing one thing and then another,” he says. “That’s what I do as an actor — inhabit different worlds and characters and roles.”

Company, through Sept. 12, $20-$120, at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post, 415-677-9596.

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