Over a year ago, I hashed out the concept of the Act One Fake Out Anthem.
And because I’m a dumbbell, I forgot to mention the ultimate example:
When high school Steve first caught the musical, unschooled in the ways of love, I thought that the first-act closing “Marry Me a Little” sounded like the story’s resolution. Bobby was wafering on committing to a relationship, and now he’s belting about being “ready” to do just that, the final declaration of both the song and act uno. So what’s left to resolve?? Will act dos chronicle his attempts??
But anyone with even a modicum of mature relationship experience can read the lyrics and probably realize Bobby’s problems still to be explored: he describes an idealized (fantastical?) relationship, one defined largely on his own terms, perfectly positioned with respect to his desired emotional intimacy, while also maintaining a safe distance.
But that’s not a recipe for meaningful connection; he’s describing a cowardly puppeteer dictating how to pull the strings on his own personal marionette — it’s the Pygmalionism of his infantilized dreams.
The second act teaches him the error of his stunted ways (or, at least, sets him on a righter track?). Partially informed by his front-row seat to the likes of “The Ladies Who Lunch” — which immediately precedes the actual, epiphanic finale “Being Alive” — he realizes that a satisfying love for him will require a full, messy commitment from him. The precise half-measures of “Marry Me A Little” won’t cut it. He must throw himself into the deep end of the dating pool, without being sure how to swim, in order to be alive.
In other words: the greater the risk, the greater the rewards reaped.
Leave it to Sondheim to illuminate this truism into fully formed, deeply felt, and dramaturgically reflected truth.