Sunday in the Park with George
THE BROADWAY MUSICAL INSPIRED BY THE PAINTING, A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF GRAND JATTE, AND LOOSELY BASED ON THE LIFE OF ITS CREATOR, GEORGES SEURAT. HIS CLASSIC PAINTING COMES TO LIFE IN THIS AWARD-WINNING MUSICAL.
Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1984 musical Sunday in the Park with George is a fictional representation of maverick French Impressionist painter Georges Seurat's efforts to create his masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte. Seurat, played by Mandy Patinkin, is obsessed with his work, to the frustration of his mistress, Dot (Bernadette Peters). Along the way, we meet many other characters--whoever happens to be in the park that Sunday--who eventually become part of the canvas.
Act 2 fast-forwards 100 years. Patinkin now plays Seurat's great-grandson, George, himself a frustrated artist. (Peters plays his grandmother--Seurat and Dot's daughter.) In the score's best-known song, "Putting It Together," George (and Sondheim himself) explains the hazards of trying to create art while also confronting the reality of having to pay for it. In a search for inspiration, George travels to the original island where Seurat created the painting. As with Sondheim and cocreator James Lapine's next collaboration, Into the Woods, Sunday is often criticized for redirecting its focus in the second act instead of letting the first act stand by itself as a complete work. The second act, however, is the emotional core of the show, as George confronts all the feelings his great-grandfather had repressed so many years ago.
Stephen Sondheim's brilliant score is remarkable for its combination of vivid colors (listen to his dots of sound that represent Seurat's pointillistic style of painting), character pieces, and sheer beauty. The cast is terrific, and the show, aced out of most of the 1984 Tony Awards by La Cage aux Folles, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Recorded before a live audience, Sunday is especially entertaining on video, as the staging elements bring out the full humor and inventiveness of the show, and it is astonishing to see the disparate characters form themselves into the elements of the familiar painting. So many great musicals are banished to the memories of those who attended live or--even worse--immortalized as inferior movies. Sunday in the Park with George is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in musical theatre, and a must-own for anyone with a passion for it. The DVD includes an audio track with commentary by Sondheim, Lapine, Patinkin, and Peters. --David Horiuchi
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As George creates his work, the audience is introduced to the figures in the painting. Young girls, soldiers, servants, nurses, mothers and artists are developed as characters before coming together for the final tableau. At this point, a screen with the painting drops in front of the stage, showing how perfectly the scene was recreated.
The emotional theme of the show is the story between George (Mandy Patinkin, fabulous as always), who is obsessed with his work, and Dot (Bernadette Peters), his often-ignored lover. The pair truly love eachother, but George's work and his inability to express his feelings get in the way. "Finishing the Hat" and "Move On" are two songs/scenes that beautifully show the characters emotions. The actors come back when the show flips to modern day -- as a new artist named George and his grandmother Marie (the child of Dot and the original George). And the younger George learns new lessons from the failures of Dot and the older George.
Musically and lyrically, Sondheim perfectly captures the emotions of the characters and the painting itself. "Red, red, red, red, red, red, orange, red, red, orange..." George sings while he works. The staccato words and music evoke the pointilistic style of the painting itself. Incredible! (But, what else would one expect of Sondheim?)
Highlights to watch for: "Mr." and "Mrs." a hilariously ignorant couple of American tourists. "WE...ARE...LOST!" they say to the French, while making huge gestures. Also note Brent Spiner (before he became famous as Star Trek's "Data") as a German servant.
The surprise of the package is the overdub of sound as you hear Sondheim, Patinkin, Peters, and Lapine discuss their recollections and feelings about the show as they watch the DVD video themselves with the sound off. Patinkin states that the show changed his life, is overwhelmed by the experience of watching it and brought to tears. There are a couple of exchanges in which Sondheim talks about his method of writing that are fascinating -- especially if you are interested in the creative process.
'Sunday' had a tough birth and you get some insight on this as some of the most powerful moments were slotted in even on preview night.
I will risk the consternation of those who believe the second act is a true cousin to the first. I do not. I would have preferred a slightly longer first act performed without break for two reasons. First, Act I tells most of us a story about which we never knew. While the fictions Lapine injected into Act I were necessary -- we know so little about Seurat's reclusive life after all -- Act II speaks to us in large part about the callousness of the contemporary art market we already know. For a little while, the book falters, then recovers its footing about halfway through.
In an era of cerebral musicals and pale revivals, some of which hold up onstage but not on recordings, Sunday in the Park with George is one hell of a musical. It has everything we seek when we go to musical theater; and the video producers really gave it a go, creating the permanent document of a timeless work and an era that has passed. The cast is uniformly fine.
As one who completed an advanced degree in art history, I also have a special love for the painting and artist about whom the musical is based. In the subtext of Sondheim's work, then, is the admonition that we not forget these heroic figures, and that we pass their stories on to our children. I agree. Five easy stars.
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I'm always incredibly moved when I watch it. The music, story, and cast are incredible. Bernadette Peters can do no wrong. BEAUTIFUL.