Sondheim: Finishing the Hat

Written by Miles Mykkanen


In category: Song of the Day

Published May 24, 2016

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday In the Park with George opened on Broadway in 1984 starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Act One centers around Georges Seurat as he paints his pointillistic masterpiece, Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte, which was unveiled exactly one-hundred years before the musical premiered. Sondheim and Lapine create narratives for the people featured in the painting and they become the characters in the musical drama. Some characters are merely acquaintances of Seurat as he sketches in the park on Sundays, while others have personal ties to the artist. Sondheim and Lapine speculate that the most prominently featured woman in the painting is actually a lover of Seurat’s. The character of Dot (Bernadette Peter) is muse, mistress and heartbreak to Georges (Mandy Patinkin). She is deeply in love with him and his work (“Your eyes, Georges, I love your eyes. I love your beard. I love your size. But most, Georges, of all I love your painting.”) However, since she is ultimately unable to penetrate his passion for painting and become Georges’ first priority, Dot leaves for America with a baker she met on a whim.

Dot is the love of Georges’ life, but he can’t express that to her. (“I care for this painting. You will be in this painting. […] Why do you insist you must hear the words when you know I cannot give you words? Not the ones you need.”) Maybe slightly immature when it comes to personal relationships, Georges struggles with what so many artistic types can relate to: finding a balance between his personal life and creating art.

Right before this scene, Georges has been hiding behind the trees while Dot explains how Louis the Baker, while not the most ideal partner, fulfills her in all the ways Georges never could. In this Tony Award-nominated performance by Mandy Patinkin, we watch George going back and forth between the world of his art and his need to be with Dot. For the first two-thirds of the song we see how much Georges enjoys “mapping out the sky” and “reaching through the world of the hat,” but he finally acknowledges that he will never have a woman like Dot in his life again.

“And when the woman that you wanted goes, you can say to yourself, ‘Well, I give what I give.’ But the woman who won’t wait for you knows that, however you live, there’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky, Finishing a Hat…”

Mandy Patinkin performs “Finishing the Hat” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George:

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An alumnus of NYFOS’s Emerging Artist program, Miles Mykkanen is gaining recognition on the world’s concert and operatic stages for his “focused, full-voiced tenor” (The New York Times). Fred Cohn of Opera News wrote of his performance in Eugene Onegin, “Mykkanen was a knockout as Lensky.  The lyric intensity of his singing made each moment count, and the duel-scene aria was a stretch of sheer vocal gold.”  Hear him this June in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.


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