The Art of Making Art

In the spring of 1984, I had one last opportunity to do a show in Buffalo before leaving for graduate school in the fall. By May, we were well into rehearsals for Man of LaMancha, and the show’s director and I were heading to New York to look for costumes and props we could rent for the production. These were the days of People Express, which offered (very) cheap flights from Buffalo to Newark – so we decided to fly to NY on a Tuesday morning, look for props that afternoon, see two Broadway shows on Wednesday, and fly home Thursday morning.

The prop and costume hunting went well, and Wednesday May 23, 1984 brought my first opportunity to see a Broadway show on Broadway. For the matinee we headed to the St. James Theatre to see Tommy Tune and Twiggy in My One and Only, “The New Gershwin Musical”. Novel at the time, it took existing Gershwin songs (He Loves and She Loves, Nice Work If You Can Get It, etc.) and wove them into an original story and production. It had everything I associated with Broadway shows: Catchy tunes, fantastic dancing, and a plot right out of an MGM movie musical – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and after much singing and dancing boy and girl live happily ever after. I thought I had seen what Broadway was all about.

I was wrong.

After grabbing a quick dinner between shows, we went to the Booth Theatre to see Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and the original cast of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. To paraphrase Salieri from Amadeus, this was a music I had never heard, and a storytelling I had never seen. It was art about Art – the struggle to create, the risk to present, the challenge to pursue – as brilliantly reflected in and through Seurat’s most famous work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I knew that musicals could be serious (I was getting ready to play Cervantes, after all) but was totally unprepared for what I saw and heard that night.

Since then, I’ve listened to the cast recording countless times, re-watched the video of the original production, seen the 2008 revival at Studio 54 (which featured a breathtaking set design), and marveled at the original painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (most recently this summer). But even today, the hair on my neck stands on end when I think of that night when an Ordinary Sunday opened my eyes to a Demon Barber, Giants in the Sky, Another National Anthem, and so much more.

Thank you, Mr. Sondheim, for finishing the hat.

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