I am not referring here to the painting by Georges Seurat, but the musical by James Lapin and Stephen Sondheim. This musical is not so much of interest to comics mavens, although of course it is about an artist who works in dots! There are many, many musicals based on the comics — everybody from Superman to Li’l Abner has appeared on Broadway, and there are ominous plans for not only Spider-Man (turn your speakers down, before you click that link!) but Batman on the stage. (I would predict these projects are doomed, but then I would have sworn that Les Miserables was impossible to put on stage, so what do I know.)
Rather, the musical Sunday in the Park with George is almost the perfect expression of what it is like to be a creative person, and what being an artist and making your living with it does to you. There are lines in those songs that are almost eerie in their accuracy and power. It is a writer’s musical; if you’re familiar with the score you will recognize the title of the book at the bottom of this post.
And like all really great art, you can read a lot of meanings into Sunday. It was written during the height of the HIV mortality, and it is argued that it is about death and approaching death — Seurat himself died young. I would make the case that Sunday is actually about fame. All men must die; what should we do, to ensure that we are remembered? Well, you could leave a genetic legacy, begetting children to carry your name and your genes down into the future. Or, you could leave intellectual offspring — books or paintings or songs. Children and art, as the song goes. The musical opens with Dot, George Seurat’s mistress, singing about how it is important to choose the right vehicle to ride into the future — something durable, she says, granite or bronze.
Of course he does paint her, so that she does live forever — you can see her in the painting in the Field Museum in Chicago. But in the musical, Dot bails out; she decides to put her chips on a genetic legacy instead and leaves Georges. You can see in the picture (a still from the show) that she is showing her baby to him.
Due to the demands of set and costume the show is not often produced; it was revived on Broadway last year to great acclaim. But you can pick up a DVD of the original production, which won a Pulitzer Prize, anytime. Highly recommended for people who want to think about their creativity.