A young woman named Ellie Blight was writing a paper on “Sunday in the Park” and asked me some questions:
So — I participated in a reading of just the first act a year at least before the Broadway production. It wasn’t completely finished and was only the first act, and I read several parts. Not all the music/songs were written. Then there was a production off-Broadway at Playwright’s Horizons, which I think I auditioned for — can’t remember. I didn’t get the part. That show was only the first act. Then time passed, Steve and James worked and wrote and they begin rehearsal for the Broadway production, with a longer rehearsal period than usual so they could continue to work on the script and music. I think I again auditioned but was not cast, and wasn’t available because I was doing another show that didn’t close until the Sunday in the Park rehearsals had been going on for two weeks. Then I got a call at the end of one week, asking me to come in and audition. It was sort of All About Eve — hush-hush. I was sent the scene and the song to learn, and had the weekend to work on it. On a Monday (I think) I went in to audition while the cast was on lunch break. There were two or three of us auditioning to replace Charlotte Moore, who was rehearsing the part but having trouble with the singing (as I understand it. She is a friend of mine) so I went in and did the scene and sang the song. Came home. My agent called and said I got the part and to start rehearsal the next day at 10. The cast was very welcoming, and surprised when I sang out the first time thru. They had all been singing quietly to mark the part
that Charlotte was having trouble with. So I knew about the piece from very early on, in development stages. I was acquainted with it before there was a whole, full script. And even in previews, things were changing, being written, added, etc. It was never frozen until a week before the show opened on Broadway. By that time it had melded the disparate pieces and become what it was. It did not come full-blown like Athena from Zeus’s head.
As I explain above, there was no vision of the whole at the beginning. It was created in fits and starts. There was no second act on the horizon when the first act was produced off-Broadway. Probably James and Steve had talked about it, but there was no flesh on it. In rehearsal, the second act was underdeveloped and needed some of the songs that came in over the next several weeks and during previews. But the old/modern separation made sense and was fun to work on, and continued to develop doing rehearsals and previews.
The first act Yvonne was snooty, and sad because she felt unloved. Sort of basic. And was over the top and hilarious in the song No Life. Comedic. Seemed standard to me. And in the second act I based Naomi on a current woman in the art field — I didn’t know her, just OF her, and made her sort of loud, and gave her a New York accent. The roles themselves did not have a connection. They were just two different people in two different eras. The connection was the overall conceit of ART.
Actors approach roles with more indescribable intuition than punters think. I can’t tell you how I “approached” the roles. They just “were.” Artistry cannot be broken down in
an intellectual way, in my opinion. It either feels right or it doesn’t and there’s no “explaining” why. But I had always immersed myself in history and paintings and theatre and music and that stuff stacks up inside you to become part of your imagination and inspiration without you specifically calling on it. It just appears.
The second act of the show was received in different ways by theatergoers, but most really responded to the summation that brought the two acts together. It’s really a metaphysical statement – so many possibilities. Before the second act was completely done, we were performing it in previews. There were still two major songs to be fitted in. I had friends who came during that time who were rude about the second act (not friends for long after that— you don’t do that to people who are striving). It probably did feel somewhat unsatisfactory as an experience without “Children and Art”, which came in a week before we opened (and previews had been going on for a couple of weeks). And I think it was also Finishing the Hat which was added during previews. So some people saw a show without either of those songs. I’m sure that colored their response. But after they were added and the show settled it was heralded as a breakthrough in musical theatre.
We worked on a raked stage, which was really hard on me. I had to wear sort of buskins — the soles were at least
four inches thick — to make me taller so that I better matched the proportions of the central lady in the painting. I was so much younger than I am now and don’t know how I did it — young people can do anything with their bodies.
Your calling it a theme of redemption surprises me. I wouldn’t call it that. It is very much an artist’s statement, and by extension a metaphor for every spirit, every person — so many possibilities. I could be wrong, but to me it is truly a paean to Art, in all its forms and in all the ways it can shape a person and a society.