James Lapine's "Making-Of" book about SITPWG

Started by scenicdesign71, Aug 26, 2020, 02:57 PM

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Coming April 21, 2021: "Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park With George".


The title is a no-brainer, though it's a pity that Putting It Together was already used (for no especially compelling reason) as the title of the 1992 revue.  References to either will now have to specify, book or show (or song title, for that matter).

Meanwhile, I'll be panting like a puppy until next April from sheer anticipation.


Not sure when this happened, but according to Amazon and Apple Books the release date seems to have been pushed to August 3.


After all the various quotes and summaries I've read over the years about SITPWG's development (troubled, and fast: barely a year passed between Lapine's first meeting with Sondheim and the show's first preview at Playwrights Horizons; less than ten months after that, it opened on Broadway), reading Jesse Green's NYT (p)review of the new book may be the first time I've truly understood the show's very existence as a bizarre fluke, and its greatness entirely inexplicable, even preposterous, given the circumstances of its creation.


I look forward to reading the book itself.  The publisher's website includes an excerpt which only underlines the unlikeliness of Sunday's triumph; in Lapine's quick self-portrait (at least as condensed in this preview), his pre-Sondheim career comes off as thinner and more scattered than I'd thought of it before.  I had already known its basic outlines -- photographer/graphic artist with a couple of well-regarded Off B'way writing/directing credits -- but this preview chapter really drove home the extent to which those outlines were really the whole picture of his career at that point.

Partly my awe for the work itself has for a long time kept me relatively incurious about the day-to-day details of its genesis (which, in any case, haven't been available until now); theater-world gossip is, to my mind, its own circle of hell.  And partly I'm just looking back, as my 50th birthday looms, with a degree of naked jealousy at the improbable, life-changing opportunity Lapine stumbled into at 33 (and stumbled through, it seems, while still somehow emerging victorious, with a Pulitzer to show for it). 




I've been hoping for a Gyllenhaal/Streep Sunday movie at least since his casting in the City Center revival (and maybe even earlier, when their Little Shop concert proved he had a previously-untapped flair -- and an equally-unsuspected voice -- for musicals).

And for years I've thought that a screenplay adapted from the show ought to begin in its "present day" (mid-1980s) and then flash back to Seurat a century prior.  I always envisioned an opening-credits Steadicam prowl through the guests at modern-day George's art-opening reception, perhaps overhearing bits of cocktail conversation (by turns snarky and fawning) to stoke our curiosity about the art -- and the artist -- being fêted. Reference to the "electrical screw-up," Dennis cowering in a darkened gallery nearby, conceivably even a partial pre-prise of "Art Isn't Easy": you could do a little or a lot to whet our appetite for the 1980s portion of the story -- the important thing is just to establish its existence so that the jump-forward later on, from 1880s to 1980s, doesn't seem so out-of-left-field.

Well, that's one of the important things.  Perhaps even more crucially, this opening sequence would introduce us to the painting itself.  Hanging all-but-ignored at one end of the reception gallery, Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte is our quietly roving Steadicam's ultimate destination.  But, not content to observe the painting from a respectful distance, the camera pushes closer, closer, right up to the canvas and into the brushwork... whereupon we find ourselves in the titular Parisian park on a sweltering summer day in 1884, where a pretty young artist's model mops her brow impatiently while her lover sits sketching her from a nearby patch of shade.

What The Park actually looks like is the tricky part, and after years of pondering the question I still have no very clear idea.  (What it decidedly doesn't look like is the pixellated mess that Lapine made of it in Six By Sondheim -- chalk that up to R&D, I guess: figuring out what doesn't work is a step toward figuring out what does).  As a visual strategy we'd have to live with for almost half of the movie, this look would need to be flexible -- and capable of restraint.  It might involve multiple variations, from daubed-paint pointillist fantasia to documentary early-photography sepia to 1980s Benday-dot postmodernism.  But so much of the 1880s story (or arguably even all of it) takes place, not really in historical 19th-century Paris, but, in a quasi-literal sense, inside the painting itself, in the world of the artist's imagination.  And the singlemost important function of this opening-sequence zoom into the canvas would be to establish just that.

Anyhoo, just fantasizing.


Another NYT review, this one by Alan Cumming, who bifurcates humanity into "artists" and "scientists" (by his lights, Sondheim is the latter, Lapine the former) and prefers Sunday's first act to its second:


With friends like this...  Kidding (sorta); while I'm not sure I'd recommend giving up his day job for a new career in criticism, Cummings's thoughts-in-passing on "the many masturbatory galas honoring Sondheim I have attended -- and occasionally performed in -- over the years" are entertaining and perceptive.

(And he does like the book).


Does anyone know if this is the kind of book I'd enjoy on Kindle, or if it's the kind where I'd be kicking myself if I didn't spring for the hardback edition?


Quote from: KathyB on Jul 31, 2021, 08:45 AMDoes anyone know if this is the kind of book I'd enjoy on Kindle, or if it's the kind where I'd be kicking myself if I didn't spring for the hardback edition?

Having a mild dead-tree fetish myself, I will likely get the hardback (if someone doesn't give it to me for my upcoming birthday).  But I don't know whether the book might be just as easily enjoyed on Kindle.  It's said to contain photos, and some scans of SJS's original longhand lyrics-in-progress -- but assuming those are all included in the Kindle version too, I don't know whether the format would make any difference, pro or con.  (If viewed on a device that allows zooming-in, e.g. to read marginal scrawls on those legal-pad lyric sheets; and IF -- big if -- these pics are high-res enough to make zooming-in actually effective -- then might the Kindle version actually be better than the paper one?).

I noticed on the Facebook FTC group that Town Hall and the Strand are livestreaming a book-launch celebration tomorrow evening.  Sondheim and Lapine will be conversing, with Patinkin and Peters as guests and Christine Baranski moderating.


$25 for the livestream -- live only, apparently, at 7pm ET/4pm PT tomorrow (Tue Aug 3); no plans for streaming on-demand after the fact are mentioned;
OR $45 for the livestream plus a (hard)copy of the book, including domestic shipping.


I ordered my copy from Premier Collectibles and it was 20% off the cover price of $40. and it comes with an book plate autographed by the author.
I no longer long for the old view!


When you both get your copies, you'll need to post reviews, particularly of the format of the book and the photos. My budget and my overstuffed bookshelves would rather have me get this for Kindle, but maybe there's good reason to spend the extra $15.