Entertainment

Side by Side With Sondheim: Alan Cumming Reviews a New Book About ‘Sunday in the Park’

Side by Side With Sondheim: Alan Cumming Reviews a New Book About ‘Sunday in the Park’
Written by admin
Side by Side With Sondheim: Alan Cumming Reviews a New Book About ‘Sunday in the Park’

Side by Side With Sondheim: Alan Cumming Reviews a New Book About ‘Sunday in the Park’

PUT TOGETHER
How Stephen Sondheim and I Created “Sunday in the Park With George”
By James Lapine

I have long maintained that each of us is a scientist or an artist.

That’s not to say that we spend our days playing with Bunsen burners and test tubes or composing odes and throwing paint gobs at inanimate objects. No, being a scientist or an artist – by my definition anyway – refers more to the way we look at life, the way we manipulate it. Do we crave order and rationality or are we more comfortable with the abstract and the laissez-faire? Or, in its simplest and most precise form: do we see life in straight lines or in curves?

I’m sure there are a lot of real scientists who are, according to this theory, artists. And in James Lapine’s fascinating and rigorous investigation into the provenance and parturition of his first collaboration with Stephen Sondheim’s, “Sunday in the Park With George”, he completely confirms my theory that many artists are also famous. huge scientists.

Of course, music is as much a science as it is an art. It is literally written and contained in straight lines – five of them. So it should come as no surprise that Sondheim’s approach to writing is so meticulous that – at least for this shady artist – a military operation. In a revealing section, he explains how he favors yellow notebooks for the listing potential of their margins, in which he catalogs rhymes – although he sometimes pushes the boat and goes for synonyms. Several facsimiles of these notepad pages are helpfully included here for us to browse through in wonder.

Lists are in fact fundamental to Sondheim’s work, as many of them are accumulated (in strict order of course) before any composition begins. First there are general lists on the subject of a song, and once they have borne fruit the idea he switches to rhymes (aided and encouraged by Clement Wood’s rhyming dictionary. “This is the only one to use. It is unlike any other because rhymes are listed vertically rather than horizontally,” he adds with arcane). Then lists of quatrains and, finally, thoughts.

READ Also  The truth about Offset's baby mamas and his kids

“So these are like free associations? »Asks Lapine, today, after many collaborations with the maestro. “Free associations but in the rhythm that I had established”, corrects Sondheim. I rest my case of artist / scientist.

The legal terminology is actually very apt for “Putting It Together”, which is not a book at all, but a post-mortem, forensic investigation of what must surely be one of the most unlikely trips. and chaotic towards a Pulitzer Prize and a place in the highest echelons of the canon of American musical theater.

There are a few interjections and explanations from the author, but its majority content is testimonial from a wide range of people who were part of his faltering progression towards an opening on Broadway, and who reveal with increasing frankness just how much he it is a dark and troubled path. has been.

It starts in 1982. Rabbit was a theater naïve who got into writing and directing through poster design and a series of happy accidents – like writing to Jasper Johns asking for financial help. to put on an avant-garde show on Gertrude Stein in a SoHo Loft (Johns said yes!). This earned him an Obie and he became the fresh and hot meat of the New York City Theater Market. Then after a show about a Jungian case story (you really couldn’t make it up!) Shortly after the introduction for Sondheim was ordered.

It’s not hard to imagine why Sondheim – who has always struck me as one of the most curious, contrary and even counter-cultural American theater legend – would be fascinated by the idealistic and totally off-screen young fawn of Lapine ( and his mate stoner in boot) throwing photographs on the carpet of his townhouse and throwing ideas at him through the downtown / upscale net.

Sondheim was in the doldrums after the recent business failure and reviews of “Merrily We Roll Along,” apparently considering giving up the theater altogether and considering a career in video game design. Yes, you heard me.

READ Also  Why Sharmila Tagore was not excited on saif ali khan kareena marriage

They decide to collaborate and after a few false starts – including an idea to adapt a film by Buñuel – they begin to riff on a postcard that Lapine brings from “Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat . Some witchcraft is happening. The two try to explain it in these pages, but like all magical moments, it can never be fully captured. What is transparent is that they floated each other’s boat, that the scientist was revived by the idealism of the young artist, and the artist both dazed and comforted by the look of the scientist. Together, they challenged the omens of musical theater and decided to create a play based on painting.

So far so yadda yadda, and I have to admit I have a slight fear that this is the literary equivalent of the many masturbatory galas in honor of Sondheim that I have attended – and sometimes performed – over the years. . Yes he is a genius, yes there is no one like him, yes we are not worthy. I can’t imagine how much he must miss this form of blind adulation, especially when his work seems to promote his antithesis, with many of his characters appearing to squirm and shrivel when they are being celebrated and staring at the door. interior, or toward greater ideals than self-glory.

But soon things pick up and in the blink of an eye the first half of the show is produced by Playwrights Horizons as a studio production, an artistic luxury unimaginable in today’s theatrical climate where science has long conquered. art. The show was moved to Broadway despite there being no second act, and that explained why it felt like two disparate plays to me, the first eminently more successful. He was received with perplexity and contempt by the preview audience, so much so that he was worried about the mental state of the actors in front of the large number of empty seats after the intermission as well as the phenomenon of “Standing ovations as they walk” – members of the audience clapping as they flee the theater.

READ Also  When Amitabh Bachchan gave bold scene with jiah Khan

The second act was further hampered by Sondheim’s failure to deliver two final songs until the 11th hour. Many pages of the notepad were filled, but the actors had to perform spoken monologues for them until the songs finally arrived, less than a week before the Broadway opening.

But there were problems at every turn. Lapine’s inexperience and sinuous mannerisms clash with several of the original cast, including Kelsey Grammer, who is outraged at Lapine’s confusion between the top and the bottom of the stage.

“It was a strange dyslexia that I had for years,” says Lapine in the transcript of their interview together. “The same goes for remembering the scene on the left and on the right. “

Mandy Patinkin, who triumphed in the lead role of painter Seurat, is also revealed to have hit Lapine and many others in the company, and indeed a possible Broadway production manager reveals she must have been remonstrating. to the team so as not to place a bag of sand on the actor’s head.

But despite these and many other hilarious musical theater geek gems, this is not a collection of gossip. It is in fact a story of artistic consistency, revealing as much the ultimate work as the experience lived by the participants during its realization. “Putting It Together” cleverly ends with the script for “Sunday in the Park With George,” a fitting finale to remind us of the very essence of the show being discussed as well as the painting it is based on: de up close it looks confusing and chaotic, but as we step back and look at it as a whole – as does Lapine, after waiting almost 40 years for the dust to settle to life. A true fusion indeed, of art and science.

#Side #Side #Sondheim #Alan #Cumming #Reviews #Book #Sunday #Park

Click to rate this post!
[Total: Average: ]

About the author

admin