The making of a Broadway hit requires pratfalls, clashing egos, and grueling artistic struggles, according to this luminous debut by the Tony Award–winning playwright and director. In a captivating oral history, Lapine revisits his experiences writing and directing Sunday in the Park with George—a musical riff on Georges Seurat’s 1886 pointillist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte—through interviews with those involved in the show’s 1984 debut, including composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, leads Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, producers, financiers, and even stage managers. These conversations explore the project from Lapine’s and Sondheim’s early, inchoate brainstorming sessions to desperate last-minute rewrites when preview audiences hated the second act. Along the way were innumerable design headaches—Peters required a mechanical gown that opened on its own—actorly meltdowns, and persistent bafflement at Lapine’s directing techniques (“I remember saying to you, ‘I don’t have a character. Where is my character?’ And you said, ‘You’re not a character, you’re a color,’ ” one cast member recalls). There’s plenty of entertaining backstage melodrama, but Lapine never plays it just for laughs, instead drawing out the serious devotion to craft and artistic risk-taking that fueled it. This is a fascinating 360-degree panorama of showbiz at its most intense and creative. (Aug.)
James Lapine’s fascinating and rigorous, no-punches-pulled investigation . . . into what surely must be one of the most unlikely and chaotic journeys to a Pulitzer Prize and a place in the highest echelons of the American musical theater canon . . . [Putting It Together] is actually a story of artistic steadfastness, revealing as much about the ultimate work as the experience the participants endured while making it.” —Alan Cumming, The New York Times Book Review
"Putting It Together is the richest backstage memoir I know that concentrates on the work itself. If you want to learn what it’s like to put on a professional show, Mr. Lapine’s book tells pretty much everything, organized by who does what . . . Best of all are the conversations in which Mr. Lapine and Mr. Sondheim admit you to their workshop, sharing memories that illuminate their creative process like a flash of lightning.” —Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal
"Just as Lapine and Sondheim's musical masterpiece Sunday In The Park With George chronicles the sacrifice and struggle in the art of making art, so too does Putting It Together capture the painstaking, bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece energy of creating a new musical. Most astonishing to me are the depth and frankness of Lapine's interviews with his many collaborators: from his tentative first steps writing with Sondheim to wary producers and personality clashes with actors, Lapine lets everyone tell their side of the story, the entire journey to the stage on the page. It's the most thorough and engaging chronicle of a burgeoning life in the theater since Moss Hart's Act One. I didn't read this book: I inhaled it. It's quite a hat." —LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
"This lovely, lively portrait in time of how a musical was made, bit by bit by its makers, is irresistible. Lapine's pointillist approach, applied in interviews with all the distinct characters whose input colored and created the work, paints an indelible picture of the captured moment. Sondheim's achievement, its process revealed, still gleams with the mystery of art. How does he do it? I loved it." —MERYL STREEP
"[Lapine] paints a vivid portrait of a bygone era, one that was already slipping away . . . Along the way, Lapine offers plenty of gossip for those seeking it . . . but he also provides an unvarnished portrait of a lucky alchemy that allowed artistic hubris to triumph over the quotidian . . . Now those who helped that show find its voice are sharing their memories of the time, and making Putting It Together an indispensable addition to the libraries of theater lovers." —Mark Peikert, Rolling Stone
"Luminous . . . In a captivating oral history Lapine revisits his experiences writing and directing Sunday in the Park with George . . . from Lapine’s and Sondheim’s early, inchoate brainstorming sessions to desperate last-minute rewrites when preview audiences hated the second act . . . This is a fascinating 360-degree panorama of showbiz at its most intense and creative." —Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
"Delicious . . . Putting It Together is a blast of theatrical oxygen, reminding us, as Sunday in the Park did, that creating art is messy and difficult and not to be taken for granted." —Kathy Henderson, American Theatre
“Wonderful . . . the story of how one musical came about . . . [and] a primer on everything that goes into making a musical, from costuming to orchestrating.” —Joe Westerfield, Newsweek
"When I was 19, I read the lyrics of 'Putting It Together' to my mother, to say that this is what I wanted to do with my life, even though I had no idea of what 'this' might be. I couldn’t sing like Mandy Patinkin, I couldn’t compose like Sondheim, I couldn’t write or direct like James Lapine. But, like Seurat’s hat, that play was a window from this world to that and with this book, I can finally see how they put it together." —STEPHEN COLBERT
"A century after Georges Seurat reinvented painting, so two theater artists, inspired by his luminous vision, did the same for the American musical. Putting It Together is the unsparing and touching chronicle of how James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim pulled off their unlikely triumph, told in their words and those of some three dozen collaborators. Challenging themselves and Broadway conventions every step of the way, they created an audacious show of shimmering beauty that changed their lives and has transfixed theatergoers ever since. Here is how they did it." —FRANK RICH
"Sunday in the Park with George has always been like an oracle, bible, talisman and holy grail all rolled into one for the benefit of my artistic soul. Whenever I am feeling weary, jaded or frustrated I turn to this show to inspire me and help me fall in love again with my art. Putting it Together has pulled back the curtain on how this magical show was created and instead of diminishing its magic by shining a bright light on it’s creation, James Lapine has somehow made it that much more mystical and magical. Gratefully, I now revere the show and it’s creators even more than I ever thought possible." —AUDRA MCDONALD
Director, playwright, and screenwriter Lapine's vivid oral history details the creation of the musical Sunday in the Park with George, for which Lapine wrote the book and Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics. Drawing on interviews with 40 people involved in the show, including cast members Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, stage managers, designers, and Sondheim himself, Lapine recalls both excitement and skepticism: Would a musical based on a painting, especially one by Georges Seurat, resonate? The narrative shines when Lapine and Sondheim reflect on their weekly planning meetings in 1982. A particular highlight of this book are its reproductions of original notes and sketches, photographs of cast and crew, and the musical's full script. Theater lovers will be drawn in by the details: casting and funding the original off-Broadway production in 1983; nerve-racking Broadway previews in 1984; several Tony nominations; and the success of "Finishing the Hat," as sung by Patinkin. Lapine more than succeeds at putting together the four-decade narrative of the production. VERDICT Beyond its obvious appeal to Broadway fans, this insider guide to creating art, including making mistakes and accepting criticism, will spark the interest of aspiring artists and writers.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal
Conversations with the creators of a landmark American musical.
Lapine was “an accident of the theater,” an Ohio native whose first Broadway experience was the time when, at age 11, his parents took him to Bye Bye Birdieand he clumsily thrust his souvenir program at star Dick Van Dyke and gave him a paper cut on the nose. He had intended to pursue a career in photography, but he became an off-Broadway playwright, work that attracted the interest of Stephen Sondheim. Their first collaboration, Lapine’s debut as a writer/director, was Sunday in the Park With George (1984), a musical inspired by Georges Seurat’s pointillist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. This delightful book revisits the two years they spent telling a fictionalized version of Seurat’s life. Lapine conducted conversations with around 40 people involved with the show to create “a mixed salad: one part memoir, one part oral history, one part ‘how a musical gets written and produced.’ ” Among the participants are Sondheim, stars Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, and musical director Paul Gemignani. The result sometimes feels like a mutual admiration society, with the casting director saying Sondheim was “incredibly generous to all of us,” Lapine saying how much he learned from Peters and Patinkin, and so on. But fans will find much to love, including the complete text of Lapine’s script and Sondheim’s lyrics and reproductions of handwritten notes, sheet music, drawings of costumes, and more. A highlight is the long section in which Sondheim describes his process of composing a song. The author is refreshingly candid about his role in his actors’ frustrations—a continuation of his childhood clumsiness—as when he told cast member Brent Spiner, “You’re not a character, you’re a color,” to which Spiner replied, “Would you mind telling me what color?” As Lapine admits, “I wasn’t the most popular guy in the room.”
Art isn’t easy, as this entertaining look at the making of a cultural touchstone amply demonstrates.