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Sunday in the Park with George

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The Writing of Sunday in the Park with George

Noel KatzCommentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Sunday in the Park with George is one of the few musicals to make use of leitmotifs—a system of identifying short pieces of music with various characters, character traits or emotions popularized in the operas of Richard Wagner. The use in this musical by Stephen Sondheim is, at times, subtle, but it contributes to the character and the quality of the work.

The main character, post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat, doesn't often express his emotions, so the audience comes to rely on the leitmotifs to stay aware of the feelings he and other characters experience. Many of the motifs appear in the first song, which belongs to his model/girlfriend, Dot. The first consists of a single note in the bass accompaniment, followed, on the next beat, by a somewhat dissonant chord; both are staccato. They indicate impatience. A vocal motif, building up a chord to two whole notes, usually has to do with sensuality: In this first song, Dot's lyric is, "I love your size, George." Later in the act, she tries to make him jealous by referring to her intimate life with her new beau, a baker: "I mean he kneads me; I mean, like bread, George." The audience might not literally remember that this is an echo of the first song, they get the joke because the leitmotif has been established as a sexy one.

Composer Stephen Sondheim also repeats a method he'd used to good effect in his previous musical, Merrily We Roll Along: this is the device of using parts of one song in a wholly different song later in the score. In one of the final songs, we hear good advice to an artist: "Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new." It's a piece of a previous argument, a song in which a different artist claimed, "You know I cannot give you words." Even the title of the later song, "Move On," recalls the sense that it's imperative that unhappy lovers leave each other, an Act One song called "We Do Not Belong Together." To underscore all this need for travel, Sondheim uses a busy accompaniment motif, with many legato thirds playing about.

Such a carefully composed piece as Sunday in the Park With George reveals the intricacy of its construction the more one studies it.

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Sunday in the Park with GeorgeSunday in the Park with George (DVD) from Amazon.com Film of the 1986 stage version starring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin. Features commentary by Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Mandy Patinkin, and Bernadette Peters.

Cast Recordings

Sunday in the Park With George (2006 London Revival Cast) from Amazon.com Starring Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell. Songs include: Opening, Sunday in the Park With George, They are out early today., No Life, Color and Light, Gossip, The Day Off, Everybody Loves Louis, The One on the Left, Finishing the Hat, We Do Not Belong Together, Beautiful, Chaos, Sunday, It's Hot Up Here, Chromolume #7, Putting It Together, Children and Art, Lesson #8, Move On, George. Is that you?, Sunday Finale, and Bonus track: The One on the Left, complete version.

Sheet Music and Reference Material

Sunday in the Park with George (Vocal selections) from Musicnotes.com Songs include: Move on, Beautiful, Children and Art, Finishing the Hat, and Sunday. Instant digital download sheet music.

"Putting It Together" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Sunday in the Park with GeorgeSunday in the Park With George (Vocal Score) from Amazon.com

Sunday in the Park with George (Applause Musical Library) from Amazon.com Complete script to the musical.

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