Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Thought for Ludlow Lad On "Sunday in the Park with George"

I'm catching up on blogging, even though I'm drowning in tsuris for the book. All I can say is my publisher -- all of them working there -- are kind, decent people. Can hardly say the same for a few folks over at the other party in this endeavor.

Anyway. I was rather disheartened to read Ludlow Lad's thoughts about Sunday the Park with George. Meaning...I might as well come out: Sunday is my favorite musical. It opened when I was 16. I remember the first time I saw it -- front mezz, row D of the Booth. My friend Mel Richards was the doorman at the Booth -- he had been the doorman at the Golden prior to that, which all goes back to my 'night, Mother story. I used to spend my Saturday afternoons hanging with Mel in the little doorman area just off the stage door of the Booth, and as the Booth has not much wing space at all, I'd be sitting there watching, say, Bernadette waiting to go on. They may or may not have known my name, but they knew my face. And I have a bunch of playbills with Sondheim's autograph on it. And for reasons that are too complicated to get into but relate in part to the fact that I was an intern at Playwrights Horizons in the summer of 1985, I was invited to be in the audience when Sunday was taped for PBS in the fall of 1985. If you watch the DVD, watch the very end, as the credits are scrolling. The cast is taking its bows and there's a cut back to the audience which is giving the (now customary) standing O. And you'll see two people getting up, somewhere around the third or fourth row of the orchestra, on the aisle, I think. That's me and my mother. I was 17.

Anyway, I have a lot of critical thoughts on Sunday. Not that I expect to sway Ludlow Lad, and I would love to be able to link to a 3,000-word analysis I just had published in The Sondheim Review, but that's not available on the website.

What bothers me is the idea that Sunday is "poorly executed." I think it's anything but. I mean, the Menier production and/or the Broadway transfer may be poorly executed -- I don't know, I'm seeing it on the 15th, so we'll see. (No, I'm not reviewing it. I just interviewed the stars of the show, which I'll be linking to shortly.)

I will say that I've listened to the cast recording and, much as I think the voices are sumptuous, Michael Starobin's orchestration were very nervy for their time, especially during Act 2. At the time of the original production, a modest orchestra was perceived as a net minus, and yet it was understood that the bleak economic necessities of the mid-1980s -- remember, Broadway houses were regularly empty for months at a time then -- were the root cause of it. And I think Starobin's orchestrations had the "shimmering" quality Sondheim wanted -- music as a metaphorical reflection of pointillism, which I can't imagine anyone not understanding.

Ludlow Lad says the production's big problem is "it's use of video projections in act one, which undercuts the impact of the new media art that turns up in act two." This is fair -- again, I can't agree or not agree until I see it -- and it seems an astute observation: If you introduce high technology, however subtly, into a 19th century setting, there's no smack of modernity when the 20th century arrives. I understand that the projection quality is similar to The Women in White, which I did review and loathed much as everyone else did. It never occurred to me, frankly, that there could be something jarring, an intellectual discord, between high technology and a long-ago period. I wish I'd thought of that. I'll just have to see how I feel about it. I may be too busy having a good cry.

As for the use of British accents in Act 1 and American accent in Act 2, Daniel and Jenna talked about this when I interviewed them. I wasn't able to include their thoughts on this -- obviously the director, Sam Buntrock, has had some influence over the decision. Daniel did say, though, that in Britain nobody knows they're speaking in a British accent, which I thought was fair.

Personally, I think Act 2 is abundantly necessary. The release of tension signified by the tableau at the end of Act 1 is one thing, but it surface tension -- it's not the gut-churning tension of the artistic impulse. Ugh, I wrote 3,000 words about this for the Sondheim Review and I'm not making any sense.

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1 comment:

Rob Kendt said...

"Sunday" is not my favorite Sondheim, either, but for exactly the opposite reason: To me it seems like a bad idea beautifully executed. To each his own!