Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George

Glorious. From start to finish, absolutely glorious! And I say this as one who LOVED the original. Seeing it for the first time back in 1985 was an iconic experience that has remained with me in spite of all the musicals I’ve seen in the decades since then.

Luckily this revival has been brilliantly re-conceived by British director Sam Buntrock, who staged a highly successful run of the show two years ago in London. He uses projection, animation and computer-generated imagery in place of the former cardboard cutouts, and he uses them perfectly; I was afraid they might be overdone. Timothy Bird and the Knifedge Creative Network deserve much praise for their projection designs.

The wonderful music is the same that I have loved all these years. I wore out the cassette tape of it that I had at first and now have the CD; I can still cry listening to “Move On.” In the revival, Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell don’t have quite the vocal force of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, but I have no complaints.

Stephen Sondheim’s amazingly creative work, with its book by James Lapine, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1985, and is just as moving as ever. Inspired by the life of George Seurat and his painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Sondheim imagines a relationship between George and one of his models, Dot. George can never fully commit, though, because his art has such a hold on him. He always has to “finish the hat.” He consoles himself with the pride of creation, “Look I made a hat, where there never was a hat.”

In the second act, set in 1984, an American sculptor, Seurat’s great grandson, also named George, is similarly tormented by the need to create something new, something of his own, and his feeling of loneliness and isolation.

The show has so many wonderful lines; among my favorites are:
“The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. You have to move on.”
“Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision, they usually do. Just keep moving on.”
“Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see.”
“White. A blank page or canvass. His favorite. So many possibilities.”

If you can only see one show this season, make it this one. And if you weren’t planning to go to a show, change your mind. Do anything you can to see this production. Let it be your iconic experience of great musical theatre. You won’t forget it, I assure you.

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