I was a theater minor in college, and in one of my classes we watched the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” about Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I had never heard of the musical or the painting. The most I knew was that Mandy Patinkin (who played Seurat) was Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, and the painting was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I got obsessed with the musical, and with the painting. When my creative writing class assignment was to write a poem about a piece of art, I wrote about Seurat’s painting, choosing the most complicated form and rhyme scheme I could think of (an Italian sonnet in trochaic hexameter or something) because I wanted to capture what a precise and technical painter Seurat was. The poem was awful, by the way, and I deserved the “pretentious and lifeless” comment from my professor when I turned it in.
When I went to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to the Art Institute to see La Grand Jatte in person. I swear to you, my breath caught in my chest when I entered the gallery where it hangs, huge and beautiful and brilliant.
So when I was looking for something to read on Scrib’d, this one caught my eye. It is an oral history by James Lapine, who collaborated with Sondheim on Sunday, and would later team with him again on Into the Woods.
Lapine’s writing flows easily between exposition and interviews with the various actors, producers, and designers he worked with, as well as conversations with Sondheim himself. The audiobook does a great job of using various voice actors to read the interview bits. An extra treat for fans of the TV show Blue Bloods is that the voice actor who reads Sondheim is Len Cariou, who plays the patriarch of the Reagan clan. Of course, if the audiobook had actually had Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Kelsey Grammar, Christina Baranski, and all the others that had a hand in the development of Sunday it would be priceless.
As it is, this is still a pretty incredible history of the making of this particular musical, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the whole process of collaboration and development for any creative work. Lapine doesn’t shy away from talking with the people he didn’t get along with on the set, and enough time has passed that no one comes across as still having an axe to grind.
If you ever saw Sunday in the Park With George, have ever listened to the music, or if you just like French Impressionism, this book is essential reading/listening. But even if you are just interested in the creative process, what it takes to put on a Broadway show, or are looking for some insight into how to work with creatives, you will enjoy this book.
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