Sunday in the Park with George is
the seminal Sondheim score, because it is the one in which you
will find, buried deep in a complex and multi-layered show written
with James Lapine, some of the most useful lyrical flags on the
In here are the lyrics that give us "Art isn't easy,"
but also "Art is what you do for yourself" and "Children
and Art" and, most centrally, "Move On": "If
you can know where you're going, you've gone
.Look at what
you want, not at where you are, not at what you'll be
you do, let it come from you, then it will be new." If ever
there was a Sondheim credo it lies there; all that and the great
anthem to Sunday. As Stephen Sondheim himself has always
said, musicals remain works in progress however many times they
may open and close in different productions worldwide, and the
ongoing greatness of Sunday in the Park after two decades
lies in its willingness to explore the very nature of the making
of art, just as the Sondheim and Jule Styne musical Gypsy explores
the very nature of show business itself.
Inspired by the painting Sunday
Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges
Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George focuses
on the famous French pointillist painter himself, who
believes that reality can always be improved upon in art.
Through the act of painting, he washes away the petty
disagreements of the characters in his landscape, creating
a world of order, balance, and harmony. Locking himself
in his solitary studio filled with paints and canvasses,
Seurat devotes himself fully to his art, unable to commit
to anything elseincluding his longtime mistress,
Dot. Sondheim's songs merge past and present into basic,
heartfelt truths about life, creation, and emotion. This
1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical confirmed for London's
Daily Telegraph that Sondheim is "one of the
finest theatre composers of his generation."
Sure, there will always be the great critical
debate about the second half, about whether the show really needs
a break, about how well the time-shift works: but never forget
that without the controversial, somehow still apparently work-in-progress
second half, we would not have the crucial "Putting it Together,"
nor indeed "Move On," nor "Children and Art."
It is inherent in the genius of Sunday in the Park that,
like the painting itself from which it derives, it changes every
time you see it and suggests somehow that it will always be capable
of that change: it is not set in stone, but rather in the light-shifting
quality of paint.
Just as the painting lets us into a moment from a lost work of
19th century France, so a musical written a century later lets
us in, uniquely, to the process of art itself. Not only is there
no musical like it, it is rare to find a play or a novel that
undertakes the analysis of a work of art, even while celebrating
and criticizing it, in quite such intricate detail.
In the Middle Ages, painters who could not afford new canvasses
on which to work would simply buy up job lots of old, discarded
artworks and just paint over them. Then, over the next hundred
or so years, the original painting would start to seep through
the new one, giving a shadowy outline in the background. The process
in art is known as pentimento, which could have served
as a wonderful subtitle for Sunday in the Park with George.
What you see is not always what you get.
Excerpted from: Morley, Sheridan. "Art Isn't Easy: Sunday
in the Park with George." The Kennedy Center Sondheim
Celebration. Washington, DC: The Kennedy Center Education
Department. 2002. (Publication may be purchased at the Kennedy
Find out about the Kennedy Center's production of Sunday
in the Park with George.
page as a PDF file