Sunday in the Park with George, which officially opened on Broadway February 23rd, 2017, is a an absolutely fabulous piece of theater. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine, and directed by Sarna Lapine this revival combines minimalism with beautiful projections, creating an experience unlike any other.
The show starts out with an empty stage. Grey. Barren, empty, sad and grey. In a moment of magical and theatrical flourish, a sheer cloth falls from the sky and covers the orchestra. Enter “George” (Jake Gyllenhall), a tormented and obsessive painter, then “Dot” (Annaleigh Ashford), his larger-than-life and always bored model. Slowly the lights come up, more actors enter and chatter, commotion begins but George has laser-like focus and doesn’t seem to hear or see anything other than his subject.
Let’s be honest, the most magical part of this production is the actual painting. Between Jake Gyllenhaal’s masterful control of his voice and physicality and the amazing visual effects, the show is worth it just for that first moment. George is frantically attempting to capture the “color and light” and continues adding color and paint to the canvas. As he continues to paint, facing the audience with hand outstretched to an imaginary canvas, the sheer cloth behind him begins to fill with color, brushstroke by brushstroke.
Sarna Lapine is a master of the elements that George frantically repeats so often throughout the show: design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony. Her use of tension and balance on stage is particularly breathtaking. Once scene resonates. in particular. When present day George visits the exact place where his ancestor, George Seurat, painted the famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, he is overcome with the lack of emotion in visiting such a pivotal place. As he searches and scans the landscape for the soft edges and genle colors his great grandfather brought to life, his heart breaks when he learns the sky is no longer blue but grey, the skyline is no longer covered with trees, but with apartment buildings, and the clear sky is now clogged with smog and smoke.
As contemporary George continues to pace, his demeanor begins to change. As he searches for the raw sense of revelation inspiration that Seurat once found, he begins to obsess over his disappointment and develops the same manic demeanor that Seurat portrays in the beginning of the show. In a sense, he becomes Seurat with the same neurotic physicality.
Director Sarna Lapine has done a beautiful job. The non-conventional story can sometimes be clouded by cerebral direction, but Lapine has lead the cast with exceptional strength and simplicity. Her direction is the perfect combination of fantasy and reality leaving audiences captivated by the beauty and nostalgia in the music.
Top Photo: Annaleigh Ashford, as Dot, powders her arm.
Second Photo: Jake Gyllenhall, as Seurat, struggles to capture the color and light.
Third Photo: The completion of the painting.
Production Photos by: Matthew Murphy