In an interview for The New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive in 1975, scenic designer Boris Aronson cites the then recently completed Lincoln Center Plaza as a primary inspiration for his work on the musical Company. Aronson described the plaza as having a "hospital quality" to it, but within this sterile environment he saw frenetic motion. Each city, Aronson said, has a unique quality that suggests, even requires, specific movements.

“When you are in Versaille, you bow,” he said, “when you are in New York you save your life [dodging] from one car to another. You keep on moving from one place to another in order not to be run over.”

Critic Walter Kerr, in his 1970 review of the original production of Company for The New York Times, wrote that Aronson’s set “at first looks like the prison setting for ‘The Last Mile’ [but] becomes a breath-taking mobile, an interlocked Tinker-Toy of rippling platforms, sighing elevators, spun-glass spindles for dances to chin themselves on.”

Since 1987, the set model for Company has been preserved, along with the rest of Aronson’s designs, in the Billy Rose Theatre Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located in Lincoln Center. Aronson and his wife Lisa Jalowetz (a noted designer in avant-garde theatre), built detailed scale models for all of their work with Harold Prince, and these models often hid surprises. “In Company it was the two elevators,” Prince remembered in his autobiography Sense of Occasion. These elevators allowed the cast to move not just across but also up and down the set in the relentless motion Aronson felt defined New York.

There was, however, another surprise, perhaps not long hidden when Aronson first presented the model to Prince over 50 years ago but which was unknown to Library staff until we prepared the model for a recent exhibition.

The original production of Company made extensive use of slide projections depicting scenes from New York in the late 1960s. (Aronson recalled that in the years following Company, he felt New York City was imitating him as he began to see similar projections in advertisements and storefronts.) Prince remembered the original production used 600 slides, which were reduced to 40 in the national tour. This latter, smaller, set of 40 slides now resides here at the Library in the papers of another longtime Prince collaborator, Ruth Mitchell.

As we were preparing for the exhibition In the Company of Harold Prince: Broadway Producer, Director, and Collaborator, I decided, as a whimsical experiment, to see what would happen if we projected digitized images of these slides on Aronson’s model. To my amazement, the model was clearly constructed for exactly this purpose. Pieces of plastic and cardboard, invisible from the front of the model, caught and reflected the image from the projector, and the sterile, hospital set came alive with color and light as the actual set must have done half a century ago.

As part of our month-long Dear NYC series, we're looking at New York City gems hidden away at the New York Public Library. The NYPL’s four research centers offer the public access to over 55 million items, including rare books, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, and more. Integral to these robust collections is the Library’s extensive material related to New York City, and as NY works to come together, cope, heal and recover from the 2020 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the many issues that divide us, it is important to look at that history and remember: New York is resilient. New York is strong. New York has seen its share of hard times. And, as always, with Patience and Fortitude (the names given to the Library’s beloved lions in 1933 by Mayor LaGuardia for the virtues New Yorkers needed to get through the Great Depression) we will get through it, together.