When I told Fiona that I was going to delve into Sondheim, specifically Sunday In The Park With George, she wisely advised to appreciate that I wasn't seeing the whole construction, only a major part. A musical is so much more than just the music. Back in the day, when I mistook a contrarian attitude for authenticity, I was staunchly anti-musical. Despite being an explicitly emotional person, having characters express themselves through song made me feel - icky. The subtext, for me, was erased, and I struggled to get on board with this direct address.
Thankfully, two things happened. One, I stopped being such a prat. Two, Hamilton. Roughly in that order, give or take a few months. To be fair to myself in my mid-to-late-teens, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was close to my heart - but that was satirising the very concept of heightened musical outpouring, reclaiming it in the name of camp. It took me long enough but partly due to Hamilton, I understood how the subtext wasn't erased when music was the main vehicle of both plot and character development, just in places I hadn't anticipated before. Rhythm, rhyme and repetition, to name a few.
I bring up Hamilton not only because Sondheim is one of Lin Manuel Miranda's major influences but also because I haven't seen the musical Hamilton performed* but it's been on a near-eternal spin on my Spotify playlist for the past two years. It hasn't felt lacking but a compelling invitation to discover the entire storyworld, to experience its various dimensions in person instead. This is how I feel having listened to the London 2006 company recording of Sunday In The Park With George**.
Sondheim's lyrics are refreshingly conversational and emphatic. The music enhances what would be standalone plausible conversations by giving them the shape of their full reality, conveying the underlying emotion of each character along with the straightforward dialogue.
Sondheim's women are visceral, their very words seeming to give them flesh. Dot, played in the 2006 cast by Jenna Russell, who got unfortunately lumped with the task of bringing a miserable Michelle Fowler back to EastEnders recently, is stunning in her straight-talking, animated performance. She is ambitious and cannot stay as still as George needs her to, as she is perfect to him only as a part of his grand design, not in herself. "Everybody Loves Louis" is an anthem for recovering partners of artists everywhere.
Going back to my mid-to-late-teens for a moment, I wish I'd listened to this then. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartache. That George Seurat himself is more of a minor character, could even be framed as the antagonist to Dot's determinedness to be educated and respected - her own person - is refreshing to say the least.
This isn't to say that Sunday In The Park With George is perfect by any means. The genetic connection is a little too convenient for my tastes but hey, it's one quibble about what is, overall, an accessible and thoroughly engaging story about art, harmony and the passage of time.
Even though I've only experienced one part, it is such a rich and intriguing part that's made me eager for the whole.
*I got tickets. I know, I'm jealous of me too.
**I must get tickets.