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: