Putting it Together and Together and Together and Together and Together

Art isn’t easy.  Any way you look at it.

After seeing the current revival of “Sunday in the Park with George” and enjoying another live performance of its seminal song about “the art of making art”, I found myself remembering the many different versions of “Putting it Together” we’ve seen over the years, and how Stephen Sondheim was compelled to rewrite its lyrics, depending on whether the art being made was visual, or audio, or cinema, or theater.

In the original musical, Act Two’s modern day George sings “Putting it Together” during a reception after the unveiling of his latest high tech art installation.  The video above shows Mandy Patinkin as George wrestling with balancing the art while securing the funding, juggling personal integrity and p. r. compromise.  When “Sunday in the Park with George” first came out, songs like “Sunday” and “Everybody Loves Louie” and the title song got the most attention.  But then Barbra Streisand decided she wanted to open what would become one of her most successful and celebrated records, “The Broadway Album”, with “Putting it Together”.  Except she felt she needed the lyrics to reflect the artistic struggles she experiences as a recording artist.  Which would necessitate some targeted rewriting of lyrics.

Would Sondheim agree to changing “Putting it Together”?

Barbra asked.  Stephen consented.

Now where George exclaimed “lasers are expensive”, Barbra laments “vinyl is expensive”. And where initially the art of making art is putting it together
Bit by bit-
Link by link-
Drink by drink-
Mink by mink-

now Barbra is putting it together bit by bit
Beat by beat, part by part
Sheet by sheet, chart by chart track by track
Reel by reel
By stack, snit by snit
By meal, shout by shout
By deal, spat by spat
Shpiel by shpiel

So the genie was now out of the bottle.  If Sondheim would help rewrite “Putting it Together” for Streisand, surely he would do it again for the Academy Awards.  And so, in 1996 we get the art of making movie art in the “Putting it Together” opening number of the 66th Academy Awards, sung by none other than Bernadette Peters, Dot/Marie in the original Broadway production of “Sunday in the Park with George”.

Here we’re putting it together with writing and lighting and carpenters and stage hands   and “statistical magicians to enhance it and of course the money to finance it”, plus “signing up a cast to make it thrilling if you can negotiate the billing”, among other movie specific lyrical nuggets.  Whereas Sondheim made only some incidental adjustments to the lyrics for Streisand, here only the first third of the number still use lyrics from the original stage version, the rest is a slew of new cinema centric rhymes.

Just as in “The Broadway Album” version, the changes in the song are not just about lyrics. The structure of the song, or rather musical number, is revised to suit the medium and the needs of this particular performance.  In the original Broadway version the song is constantly interrupted by dialog and musical asides pertaining to the plot; in the Academy Awards performance clips and snippets of movie dialog are inserted, and the song sections are reorganized to suit the framework of an Oscars opening number.

The Streisand recording, although it does include some incidental dialog, is the most streamlined version of “Putting it Together”.  That, combined with the huge success of “The Broadway Album”, explains why it is now the most well known version of the song.  And why now “Putting it Together” is the most well known song from “Sunday in the Park with George” (even becoming an ad jingle for Xerox).

So, “Putting it Together” has chronicled the art of making visual art, albums, movies. What about the art of making theater, singing on stage, as Patinkin and company were when first introducing “Putting it Together” to the world?

Look no further:

The Sondheim revue “Putting it Together”, co-starring Carol Burnett, provides the opportunity to describe the art of making theater “note by note – working on projection – lips, teeth, throat – looking for a moment to inhale”, for example.  And now, instead of lasers or vinyl, it’s the spangles that are expensive.  Plus there’s the delightful bit Carol Burnett has about the spotlight, which is a riff on Dot’s complaints to George Seurat in the songs “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Everybody Loves Louie”.  Again, only the beginning of this rendition includes lyrics from the original version, everything else has been rewritten.

There’s another enjoyable “Putting it Together” opening number, this time from the 1993 MAC Awards for Cabaret performers (presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs).  The lyrics were not changed for this version, but the incidental dialog was, hilariously:

 

Transcriptions of the Broadway and “Broadway Album” lyrics of “Putting it Together” are, like these videos, accessible on the internet and reproduced below.  Transcribed lyrics of the other versions don’t appear to be floating around in the world wide webs, so I suggest you get your own copy of Book Two of Stephen’s Sondheim’s collected lyrics “Look, I Made a Hat”, with “attendant comments, amplifications, dogmas, harangues, digressions, anecdotes and miscellany” (“Finishing the Hat” being Book One).

Not everything in life is for free on the Internet, after all.

 

Putting it Together – main lyrics – Sunday in the Park with George

George
All right, George
As long as it’s your night, George…
You know what’s in the room, George.
Another Chromolume, George.
It’s time to get to work…

Say “cheese;’ George,
And put them et their ease George.
You’re up on the trapeze, George.
Machines don’t grow on trees, George.
Start putting it together…

Art isn’t easy-
Even when You’re hot.
Advancing art is easy-
Financing it is not.
A vision’s just a vision
If it’s only in your head.
If no one gets to see it,
It’s as good as dead.
If has to come to light!

Bit by bit,
Putting it together…
Piece by Piece-
Only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution,
Every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision’s no solution,
Everything depends on execution:
Putting it together-
That’s what counts!

Ounce by ounce,
Putting it together…
Small amounts,
Adding up to make a work of art.
First of all you need a good foundation,
Otherwise it’s risky from the start.
Takes a little cocktail conversation,
But without the proper preparation,
Having just a vision’s no solution,
Everything depends on execution.
The art of making art
Is putting it together
Bit by bit…

Link by link,
Making the connections…
Drink by drink
Fixing and perfecting the design.
Adding just a dab of politician
Knowing where to draw the line.
Lining up the funds but in addition
Lining up a prominent commission,
Otherwise your perfect composition
Isn’t going to get much exhibition.
Art isn’t easy.
Every minor detail
Is a major decision,
Have to keep things in scale,
Have to hold to your vision-
Every time I start to feel defensive,
I remember lasers are expensive.
What’s a little cocktail conversation
If it gets the funds for your foundation,
Leading to a prominent commission,
And an exhibition in addition?

All
Art isn’t easy-

Alex and Betty
Trying to make connections-

All
Who understands it-?

Harriet and Billy
Difficult to evaluate-

All
Art isn’t easy-

Greenburg and Redmond
Trying to form collections-

All
Always in transit-

Naomi
And then when you have to collaborate!

All
Art isn’t easy,
Any way you look at it…

George
Dot by dot,
Building up the image.
Shot by shot,
Keeping at a distance doesn’t pay.
Still, if you remember your objective,
Not give all your privacy away,
A little bit of hype can be effective,
Long as you can keep it in perspective.
After all, without some recognition
No one’s going to give you a commission,
Which will cause a crack in your foundation,
And you’ll have wasted all of that conversation.
Art isn’t easy.
Even if you’re smart.
You think it’s all put together,
But then something falls apart
Art isn’t easy.
Overnight you’re a trend,
You’re the right combination-
Then the trend’s at an end,
You’re suddenly last year’s sensation.
So you should support the competition,
Try to set aside your own ambition,
Even when you jockey for position.
If you feel a sense of coalition,
Then you never really stand alone.
If you want your work to reach fruition,
What you need’s a link with your tradition,
And of course a prominent commission,
Plus a little formal recognition,
So that you can go on exhibit-
So that your work can go on exhibition-

George
Be nice, George…
You have to pay a price, George…
They like to give advice, George
Don’t think about it twice George…

Be new, George.
They tell you till they’re blue, George:
You’re new or else you’re through, George,
And even if it’s true, George-
You do what you can do…
Bit by bit,
Putting it together.
Piece by piece.
Working out the vision night and day.
All it takes is time and perseverance,
With a little luck along the way,
Putting in a personal appearance,
Gathering supporters and adherents…

Harriet
But he combines all these different trends…

George
Mapping out the right configuration,
Starting with a suitable foundation…

Betty
He’s an original…

Alex
Was…

George
Lining up a prominent commission-
And an exhibition in addition-
Here a little dab of politician-
There a little touch of publication-
Till you have a balanced composition-
Everything depends on preparation-
Even if you do have the suspicion
That it’s taking all your concentration-

The art of making art
Is putting it together-
Bit by bit-
Link by link-
Drink by drink-
Mink by mink-

All
And that
Is the state
Of the
Art!

 

Putting it Together – lyrics  for Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album

Be nice, girl!
You have to pay a price, girl!
They like to give advice, girl!
Don’t think about it twice, girl!
It’s time to get to work!
Art isn’t easy
Even when you’re hot
Advancing art is easy
Financing it is not
A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head
If no one gets to hear it, it’s as good as dead
It has to come to life
Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that’s what counts

Ounce by ounce, putting in together
Small amounts, adding up to make a work of art
First of all you need a good foundation
Otherwise it’s risky from the start
Takes a little cocktail conversation
But without the proper preparation
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
The art of making art
Is putting it together, bit by bit
Link by link, making the connections
Drink by drink, taking every comment as it comes
Learning how to play the politician
Like you play piano, bass and drums
Otherwise you’ll find your composition
Isn’t gonna get much exhibition
Art isn’t easy
Every minor detail is a major decision
Have to keep things in scale
Have to hold to your vision
What’s a little cocktail conversation
If it gets the funds for your foundation
Every time I start to feel defensive
I remember vinyl is expensive!

Dot by dot, building up the image
Shot by shot, keeping at a distance doesn’t pay
Still if you remember your objective
Not give all your privacy away
A little bit of hype can be effective
As long as you can keep it in perspective
Even when you get some recognition
Everything you do you still audition

Art isn’t easy
Overnight you’re a trend
You’re the right combination
Then the trend’s at an end
You’re suddenly last year’s sensation
All they ever want is repetition
All they really like is what they know
Gotta keep a link with your tradition
Gotta learn to trust your intuition
While you re-establish your position
So that you can be on exhibit
So that your work can be on exhibition!
Be new, girl!
They tell you till they’re blue, girl!
You’re new, or else you’re through, girl!
And even if it’s true, girl
You do what you can do!
Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, working on the vision night and day
All it takes is time and perseverance
With a little luck along the way
Putting in a personal appearance
Gathering supporters and adherents
Mapping out the songs but in addition
Harmonizing each negotiation
Balancing the part that’s all musicians
With the part that’s strictly presentation
Balancing the money with the mission
Till you have the perfect orchestration
Even if you do have the suspicion
That it’s taking all your concentration
The art of making art
Is putting it together, bit by bit
Beat by beat, part by part
Sheet by sheet, chart by chart track by track
Reel by reel
By stack, snit by snit
By meal, shout by shout
By deal, spat by spat
Shpiel by shpiel
And that, is the state of the art!

SUNDAYINTHEPARK_cast_phH_0-305x210

Mandy Patinkin and Stephen Sondheim

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
This entry was posted in Cinema Scope, Live! On Stage, Melodies Linger On and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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