Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

The curtain rises to reveal Robert, alone onstage. He is in his apartment, listening to his answering machine as it plays back various birthday greetings from some of his friends. After the funny, sardonic, odd messages are finished, Robert records a message of his own, announcing that it is his 35th birthday. Slowly, five couples – Joanne and Larry; Susan and Peter; Amy and Paul; Sarah and Harry; and Jenny and David – gather in Robert's apartment to give him a surprise birthday party. Each woman is carrying a wrapped gift. Robert acknowledges his friends, and the women, beginning with Sarah, each give Robert his gift. Sarah apologetically suggests that Robert should return her unopened gift if his doesn't like it. Amy and Paul present their gift, which Amy announces is a ridiculously expensive sweater. Joanne baits Jenny, flirts with David, Jenny's husband, and ignores her own husband, Larry. Amy enters with a lighted birthday cake. Everyone sings a monotone chorus of "Happy Birthday," telling Robert to make a wish before he blows out the candles. He closes his eyes, wishes and blows, but only half the candles go out. The women rush to blow out the remaining candles. Robert explains that he didn't wish for anything. The guests pick up the furniture and go to their own apartment spaces. Music begins: it is a figure that sounds like a busy signal. The couples and Robert's girlfriends, Marta, Kathy and April, all call him, each employing a variant on the name, Robert ("Bobby Baby"). Robert sings about his relationships with all of his married friends ("Company"). The song ends with the ringing of multiple telephones, doorbells and city sounds as we hear a montage of the characters experiencing typical moments in their days.

Robert has just finished dinner with Sarah and Harry at their apartment. As Harry, a recovering alcoholic, gets up to make Robert a drink, he mentions that he's been on the wagon for a year and a half. Sarah says it has only been a year. They argue lightly about this. Sarah offers Robert a brownie, mentioning that she's on a diet. Robert watches Harry sneak a sniff and then a swallow of Robert's drink while Sarah eats a brownie and pretends to fall behind the couch. Harry and Sarah continue their semi-jocose bickering. Harry asks Sarah to show Robert some of the karate that she's been learning, which she refuses to do until Robert flirtatiously asks her to do it for him. Sarah and Harry begin to spar. First, Sarah throws Harry to the floor, then Harry does the same to Sarah. She again throws Harry to the floor and pins him down. Sarah, Harry and Robert freeze as Joanne appears and sings a song about marriage and relationships ("The Little Things You Do Together"). Harry and Sarah continue to spar, freezing again as Joanne sings. Robert is caught in the middle of the fight as he tries to make himself another drink. After they all fall to the floor, they freeze as the rest of the couples sing along with Joanne. The song ends, Sarah and Harry call the fight a draw and Robert leaves as "Bobby Baby" is heard again. Sarah sneaks another brownie as Harry steals a drink out of Robert's glass. Robert, now on the other side of the stage, looks up at Harry and asks if he's ever sorry that he got married. Harry, with David and Larry (who have joined Harry), share their ambivalence about marriage ("Sorry-Grateful"). After the song, Robert takes an elevator to a terrace overlooking the city.

Robert is on the terrace of Peter and Susan's apartment. Robert suggests that he'd want to be the first to know if the seemingly happily married couple breaks up. Susan and Peter respond by telling him that they are getting a divorce. "Bobby Baby" is heard again as a stunned and puzzled Robert takes the elevator up to David and Jenny's apartment.

David, Jenny and Robert sit in the playroom of Jenny and David's apartment. Although they are smoking marijuana, Jenny insists that it is not having any effect on her. They all start giggling as they get high. When an unseen neighbor yells at the trio to keep quiet, Jenny uncharacteristically swears back. This brings howls of laughter from both David and Robert. When Robert suggests that he should have married Jenny, Jenny asks him when he is going to get married. Robert says that he intends to do that – he just has not picked a time... or a mate. In fact, he says that he's not avoiding marriage at all. It is avoiding him. He mentions three of his current girlfriends, Marta, Kathy and April, as they all appear and sing about their frustrations with Robert ("You Could Drive a Person Crazy") in an Andrews Sisters-style trio. When Robert asks if Jenny wants another joint, David tells her that she doesn't want one. Jenny goes to make everyone a snack as David tells Robert that Jenny is "square... dumb...." Robert starts to leave but is stopped by all of the couples singing "Bobby Baby." The women leave and the men tell Robert about the women to whom they could introduce him ("Have I Got a Girl for You") – women more appropriate for dating than marrying. After all, they ask, "Whaddaya wanna get married for?" When the men leave, Robert sings about finding a woman who combines the best qualities of all of the married women he knows ("Someone Is Waiting"). As each wife is mentioned, she appears with her husband.

Marta sits on a park bench. She sings about how New York is a city of strangers ("Another Hundred People"). Robert and April, an airline stewardess, appear and sit on the bench. April explains that she moved from Shaker Heights, thinking that she was moving to Radio City, a city close to New York. Marta continues singing "Another Hundred People" when April leaves. Kathy enters and sits next to Robert. She tells him that she is going to move to Vermont to get married because Robert never asked her to marry him. Marta finishes "Another Hundred People" when Kathy exits and then she relates to Robert her own peculiarly eccentric view of life in New York.

It is the morning of Paul and Amy's wedding day. Amy, in a white wedding dress, is polishing a pair of men's shoes as a woman in a white choir robe sings about how blessed a wedding day is. When Paul sees Amy polishing his shoes, he sings about how today is her special day. Amy frantically sings about how she's not getting married ("Getting Married Today"). Amy, the woman and a choir continue the song as Robert, the best man, enters, looking for Paul's cuff links. The song ends with Paul reaffirming his positive view, Amy her negative view and an emotionless chorus giving their blessing to both views. It starts to rain. After the song, Amy is fixing breakfast for Paul and Robert. She works herself into tears and tells Paul that she can't marry him. Paul is very visibly upset by this and he leaves. Robert suddenly asks Amy to marry him. As "Bobby Baby" is heard again, Amy turns down Robert's request. She realizes what a good thing she has in Paul so she goes off to find and marry him. Robert, alone onstage, suddenly feels the need to be be connected with someone, but he is not yet ready for a full commitment ("Marry Me a Little"). The lights come up in Robert's apartment, where all of the guests are gathered; Robert stares at Amy as she enters with the birthday cake.

Act Two

It is Robert's birthday. With the birthday cake in front of him, he blows out most of the candles; the wives blow out the ones that he missed. He announces that he didn't wish for anything. "Bobby Baby" is heard as the guests leave. When Robert is alone, he reflects on what it is like always to be "odd man out;" the couples join him in singing ("Side by Side by Side"). The couples sing about, and celebrate, his usefulness to them ("What Would We Do without You?").

April and Robert are in his apartment. After some idle talk, they move to the bedroom. As Robert and April embrace, Sarah and Jenny tell their husbands that they are worried that Robert spends too much time alone ("Poor Baby"). April tells Robert a story about a cocoon that had once been left in her care. When a butterfly emerged, it had been injured by her cat, and this led to an upsetting situation with the male friend who had given her the cocoon. Robert, in a desperately transparent ploy to continue the conversation, tells April a story that he feels relates to her cocoon story. He tells her how he once became disoriented and was unable to locate the motel where a date was waiting for him. As April undresses, she expresses her upset for the lonely girl and for Robert, but wonders what his story had to do with hers. The lights go down as Robert takes out champagne, glasses and baby oil, and Sarah, Jenny, Amy, Joanne and Susan all sing "Poor Baby," commenting on the inadequacy of Robert's girlfriends. The lights come up on an exhausted Robert and April singing about her next flight attendant assignment ("Barcelona"). The song ends as April unexpectedly accepts Robert's suggestion to linger with him rather than report for work. Robert seems a bit nonplused at this acquiescence. The lights fade.

Robert and Marta are at Peter and Susan's apartment; Peter and Susan have divorced but are still living together happily, a fact that strikes Marta as being very "New York." 

Robert and Joanne are drinking at a nightclub table as Larry enjoys himself dancing. Joanne drunkenly and loudly tries to get a waiter's attention to order more drinks. She yells at some women at another table to stop staring at her. A spotlight hits her as the rest of the nightclub goes into a blackout. She sings a toast to the women who don't have to work and who spend lots of time shopping, drinking and having lunch; women, in fact, like herself ("The Ladies Who Lunch"). When Larry goes to pay the bill, Joanne propositions Robert for sex; he turns her down and asks angrily about marriage, "What do you get?" "Bobby Baby" is heard as Robert is left alone onstage. He sings about the fear of being alone and being uninvolved, suggesting, finally, that he does want to have a meaningful relationship with someone ("Being Alive").

The scene shifts to Robert's apartment, and all of the couples are waiting for Robert to arrive so that they can yell, "Surprise!" (Robert observes this scene, although the couples are unaware of his presence.) This time, Robert doesn't show up to his party. They all decide to leave but, before they do, they yell, "Happy Birthday, Robert!" Robert, alone onstage, blows out the candles and smiles.