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February 2, 2020 7:27 AM   Subscribe

"Getting Married Today," the song that ends the first act of Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1970 musical Company, has been long considered the fastest number on Broadway.

Sung by the comically frantic character Amy on her wedding day, the song includes a passage with 68 words in 11 seconds (6.3 words/second), a record that stood until surpassed in 2015 by Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton; a passage in "Guns and Ships" clocks in at 19 words in 3 seconds (6.2 words/second). However, "Married" requires a longer sustained performance, and as a result is regarded as the hardest audition song ever.

Unusually for Sondheim, the verses are largely unrhymed. In his book Finishing the Hat, he said that "if I had rhymed the lines in the patter, it would have implied an organized control of Amy’s thought processes, when in fact disorder is the essence of hysteria." The song reverts to a typically complex Sondheim rhyme scheme ("Perhaps / I'll collapse / in the apse right in front of you") in the bridges. The complex breathing and articulation required to pull it off is demonstrated by the original Amy, Beth Howland, in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of the making of the original cast recording.

Sondheim, who turns 90 this year, is clearly having a moment. The Pennebaker film was brilliantly parodied as "Original Cast Album: Co-op" on the IFC series Documentary Now!, and Sondheim songs figure unexpectedly in recent films including Marriage Story, Knives Out, and Joker. Company returns to Broadway in March in a completely reconcieved London production in which the gender of the lead character is switched from the male Bobby to the female Bobbie, and "Getting Married Today" is staged as a same sex wedding with Paul marrying a perfectly hysterical Jamie.
posted by How the runs scored (23 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
The first time I saw Company, this number got a standing ovation.

It deserved it.
posted by kyrademon at 7:29 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


LMM sang this recently as part of a great interview with Jesse Thorn.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:39 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


I saw the gender-swapped version in London and it works surprisingly well. Not 100%, but probably better than the original-gender version would work in 2020.

And the staging for this number was fantastic.

It's a great production, and if you get to see it on Broadway, I'd highly recommend it.
posted by yankeefog at 8:09 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]


Don't forget Sondheim teaching a master class on the song. Jane Shaw is so good at the fast patter, and the hapless guy who sings Paul hits such a dreadful clam, that neither one gets a real comment. But Sondheim's enraptured smile at Shaw is like sunlight.
posted by argybarg at 9:39 AM on February 2 [7 favorites]


Also, Sondheim notes in Finishing the Hat that "the patter sections … are calculated to alternate vowel and consonant sound in such a way as to make them easy for the tongue, teeth and breath articulate" — in fact, easier to sing fast than slow. He still chides himself for the exceptions "which she should" and "but by Monday I'll be floating." As an experiment, try changing a few words then running the lines at speed — they become impossible.

If there's a more meticulous craftsman than Stephen Sondheim, I'd be curious.
posted by argybarg at 9:45 AM on February 2 [8 favorites]


Thanks to this post I watched five versions of Getting Married Today in a row and I regret nothing. The Madeline Kahn version remains a favorite, but Katie Finneran's physical comedy (especially the moment with the conductor) is a delight.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:45 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]




This is making me think of another Sondheim number that has to be among the most difficult audition numbers around (if anyone even uses it as an audition song) - Franklin Shepard, Inc., from Merrily We Roll Along.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:53 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


This song is one of my clearest memories of an onstage moment in grad school. Our actress, a very small woman, was wheeled out onstage sitting on a rolling kitchen island cart. She was gripping it, literally white knuckled, every muscle in her body as tense as could be, making fierce eye contact with the audience. Without losing that eye contact for an instant, she reached down, yanked open one of the drawers of the cart, pulled out a (real!) can of Red Bull, cracked it open, and drank the entire thing without pausing. She then slammed the empty can down next to her and just launched herself into this song like she was shot out of a cannon.
It was riveting, every time. Still one of my favorite Sondheim songs.
posted by Adridne at 10:13 AM on February 2 [18 favorites]


Thiswasagreatpost.
posted by Mchelly at 10:15 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


I first came across this song on YouTube after watching the Sondheim "Documentary Now" episode last year and, yes, I quickly watched about a half dozen versions of it in a row. It's so damn good.

Little piece of trivia: In the Carol Burnett version (what she loses in speed she gains in pure comedy), there's a young John "Captain Jack Harkness" Barrowman singing chorus.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:15 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]


The Lyric Stage Company in Boston just wrapped up a years-long compendium of Sondheim, so we got to see Company there a couple years ago. The woman who played Amy is a fairly regular performer there, and it was really amazing to her absolutely nail this song after mostly seeing her in fairly saccharine, uncomplicated roles.

One of the other things I love about the show (and I'd love to find more examples of this) is how the lyrics drive such strong emotional changes without the music changing at all. Side by Side is probably the strongest example, but even the opening number foreshadows it ("Bobby come on over for dinner..." followed up with "Bobby we're so sorry we missed you...").
posted by backseatpilot at 11:55 AM on February 2


I kept wishing for a Daveed Diggs performance of "Getting Married Today" during the Ham4Ham days, but alas.

Also I think the math is off? If a passage in "Guns and Ships" is faster, then shouldn't it be more words/second? You've got "Getting Married Today" at 6.3 wps and "Guns and Ships" at 6.2wps.
posted by tzikeh at 12:41 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Adridne: pulled out a (real!) can of Red Bull, cracked it open, and drank the entire thing without pausing. She then slammed the empty can down next to her and just launched herself into this song

Holy shit I would pay cash money to see that. I would steal it if I were directing a production.

AlonzoMosleyFBI: In the Carol Burnett version (what she loses in speed she gains in pure comedy), there's a young John "Captain Jack Harkness" Barrowman singing chorus.

This is from a Sondheim revue called Putting it Together. Burnett starred in the Broadway production in 1999 (alongside George Hearn, Bronson Pinchot, Ruthie Henshall, and yes, John Barrowman, who has quite the musical theater résumé). The final night on Broadway was filmed in performance for DVD, and the penultimate performance was filmed for camera rehearsal, whence cometh this DVD extra "only in live theater" moment.
posted by tzikeh at 12:50 PM on February 2 [5 favorites]


If there's a more meticulous craftsman than Stephen Sondheim, I'd be curious.

I love reading Sondheim on his work. Just the amount of thought he put into "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd" (the very first line of the show) is amazing.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:03 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Also I think the math is off? If a passage in "Guns and Ships" is faster, then shouldn't it be more words/second? You've got "Getting Married Today" at 6.3 wps and "Guns and Ships" at 6.2wps.

Oops, sorry I flipped it. It's G&S at 6.3 and GMT at 6.2. The stats are from this somewhat hilarious (over)analysis by FiveThirtyEight's Leah Libresco.
posted by How the runs scored at 1:43 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Oh, this is great. I love Sondheim and this show and this song, and I'm delighted to get all these links to versions I haven't seen.

For anyone who'd like to see the show but doesn't have a live company performing it nearby, there are several videos of live performances:

1996, starring Adrian Lester
2007, starring Raul Esparza, in the outstanding John Doyle production, shown on PBS's Great Performances
2011, starring Neil Patrick Harris, plus Martha Plimpton and Anika Noni Rose and Stephen Colbert
1970 Original Cast Album movie mentioned above), which does not show the stage show but does show the cast recording the songs

These may be available at your local library.

This is a great post, How the runs scored - thank you for posting it!
posted by kristi at 1:54 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


The Esparza one was staged during that mini-run of "have all of the actors also play the musical instruments" fad, and it works beautifully.

After you watch the Esparza one, watch "Ask A Star" with Raúl Esparza, and be ready to be moved to tears by his story about that production's performance the day after the Tonys (when Esparza lost Best Actor in a Musical to David Hyde Pierce, surprising everyone including David Hyde Pierce). It's stunning.
posted by tzikeh at 3:05 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I think it's worth noting that Lafayette's lines in "Guns & Ships" are individually tougher, with a more intricate rhythm to follow, each line playing around with that rhythm differently, and that Miranda, in contrast to Sondheim's writing for ease of singing, was seeing how far he could test Diggs' chops.

(Oh, and Lafayette has to deliver these rapid-fire lines clearly but also in an over-the-top comic French accent.)

But, and this is a BIG "but" - Lafayette gets to breathe after each of these lines. Amy doesn't.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:35 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


I saw the recent London production twice, and if they take the same production to Broadway, it really is excellent. The songs are so wonderful, and there's no way the Dean Jones incarnation could really work since, well, since about 1970.

The first Getting Married Today I heard was Millicent Martin in Side By Side By Sondheim. It's one of those things I marvel at, both the writing and the performance.
posted by Grangousier at 4:28 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I was in a community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof nearly 30 years ago, and this particular company had a a Friday-night "cabaret" in the black box theater where the cast would perform jokes and songs and skits for a smaller audience. I sang the husband part in a version of "Not Getting Married" rephrased to be about Tzeitel and Motel ("and don't tell Motel but I'm not getting married today"), complete with a rabbi and canopy. Brought the house down.

I've loved this song ever since.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:22 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I know so many musical theater nerds who have referenced this song while planning their weddings. (My wife and I certainly did.)

It really captures that 'OH GOD I AM HAVING THE PANIC ABOUT THIS THING BUT ALSO SOMEHOW CARRIED ALONG WITH IT AND DOING IT.'
posted by rmd1023 at 10:13 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I would just like to stress that anyone who's a fan of Sondheim, Company, or even just the D.A. Pennebaker documentary about the cast recording, owes it to themselves to watch the Documentary Now! parody (previously mentioned in the FPP) Original Cast Album: Co-op. It is truly a thing of beauty.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:30 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]


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