Poetry in America — Season 2

One element of any great work of art is that it always provides something new, something more to see, when you return to it. What impressed me most about New’s interviews in this episode is not only how personal each actor’s analysis of the song is, but how several of them highlight aspects of it that had not occurred to me, such as Donna Lynne Champlin’s observation that the melody reflects Georges Seurat’s painting motions. It makes perfect sense, especially considering the painting motives from earlier in the musical that feature in the song, but it is so subtle in the song itself that it could easily go unnoticed.

Champlin also suggests that the poetry of Sondheim’s music comes equally from the lyrics and music, and one is incomplete without the other. Again, it’s an observation that seems inconsequential, but in regards to a song about the entirety of creative process and the ways it can be socially distancing, that integration of music and lyrics is part of what makes this song and Sunday in the Park with George so powerful.

New interviews Raúl Esparza (2006 Company revival), Donna Lynne Champlin (2005 Sweeney Todd revival), Kerry O’Malley (2002 Into the Woods revival), and several other actors who have worked with Sondheim revealing their insights into one of Sondheim’s most famous songs.

One element of any great work of art is that it always provides something new, something more to see, when you return to it. What impressed me most about New’s interviews in this episode is not only how personal each actor’s analysis of the song is, but how several of them highlight aspects of it that had not occurred to me, such as Donna Lynne Champlin’s observation that the melody reflects Georges Seurat’s painting motions. It makes perfect sense, especially considering the painting motives from earlier in the musical that feature in the song, but it is so subtle in the song itself that it could easily go unnoticed.

Champlin also suggests that the poetry of Sondheim’s music comes equally from the lyrics and music, and one is incomplete without the other. Again, it’s an observation that seems inconsequential, but in regards to a song about the entirety of creative process and the ways it can be socially distancing, that integration of music and lyrics is part of what makes this song and Sunday in the Park with George so powerful.

Interspersed throughout the episode are excerpts of various performances of “Finishing the Hat,” always emphasizing what has been discussed. When the episode concludes with Raúl Esparza performing the entire song, after discussing the subtle lyric and tone changes over the course of the song, the poetry of “Finishing the Hat” and his performance can both be appreciated even more.

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