Thursday, March 20, 2008
Where there never was a hat...
After months of deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that Stephen Sondheim's hit musical Sunday in the Park with George is the single greatest artistic masterpiece of the 20th century. I'm exaggerating, of course, but only slightly. I was watching the DVD again this evening, a performance of the show recorded on Broadway circa 1986 with the original cast, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the lead roles. And for the record, I gush over this musical for many reasons, and not only because I'm madly in love with Bernadette Peters (a woman who, despite the forces of nature, simply does not age).
For those of you who don't know, Sunday in the Park is a fictional account of the life of the famous painter Georges Seurat, during that period in his life when he worked to create his masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It's a story of isolation, obsession, love, loss, art, conformity, regret and a longing for recognition that transcends generations. Anyone who has ever struggled with their art (whether music, literature, painting, or any creative endeavor) can relate to this profound story, and anyone who has ever loved can relate as well.
The brilliance of this Sondheim musical, though, lies not so much in the theme, but in the subtext. When you can take a line as simple as "where there never was a hat," and analyze the hell out of it until you've practically cracked the very meaning of life, you know you're dealing with a true masterpiece. Songs like "We Do Not Belong Together," "Finishing the Hat" and "Move On" are some of the most powerful and touching numbers that modern musical theater has to offer. As I was watching the DVD tonight, I was once again struck by my favorite lines, sung so mellifluously by Bernadette Peters: "Stop worrying if your vision is new; let others make that decision, they usually do; you keep moving on." I think I'm comfortable enough in my manhood to admit that I cannot get through that song without weeping.