Sunday in the Park with George

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: The cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James LaPine
Directed by Sarna LaPine
Hudson Theatre
141 West 44th Street


By David NouNou

With practically every musical, one either loves it, hates it or is indifferent to it. With a Sondheim musical, one either passionately loves it–or at worst, it’s not one’s cup of tea. You cannot toss a Sondheim musical aside by being indifferent to it. Putting it together is not easy, in Seurat’s words, for it has to have balance, color, light, tension and symmetry. Whether one likes the piece or not, one has to admire and respect the effort, the art and the intelligence that goes into each of Sondheim’s musicals.

When Sunday in the Park with George was originally presented in 1984, one felt a sense of detachment to it and one can still have that feeling today. Act I and Act II seemed to be two different musicals, with the common thread being artist George Seurat. Seurat used science behind color that led him to develop Pointillism. Like Seurat, Sondheim was also creating his new style by using Pointillism as a source to his music. With time and maturity and this current production, Act II really complements Act I. Whereas Act I introduces us to Seurat (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his muse/lover/model Dot (Annaleigh Ashford) in the creation of his masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon On the Island of La Grand Jatte,” Act II is set in a gallery in 1983 and delves into Dot’s daughter Marie (also Ms. Ashford), and her grandson George (also Mr. Gyllenhaal). The 1983 George invents the “Chromolume,” a set of magnificent lighting designs using colored light bulbs that float over the audience’s head to create a three dimensional design of the original painting with music and light. It’s an extraordinary special effect that makes the moment memorable.

What is truly remarkable in this production is Jake Gyllenhaal. Having just seen him in Nocturnal Animals, as well as Southpaw, Prisoners, and Nightcrawler, one wouldn’t expect to see this intense young actor in a musical. Who knew he could sing? He brings a charisma to both Georges that eliminates a lot of the detachment one feels in Sunday. He actually draws you into the drama of what is happening on the Island of La Grand Jatte. Equally adept is Annaleigh Ashford, who brings a delightful innocence and smarts to her characters Dot and Marie. Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Ashford have a most congenial chemistry together.

Unlike the current revival of Sunset Boulevard, in which the bare stage was a disastrous mistake, the bare stage here works in favor of the show and concentrates heavily on the creation and the recreation of Seurat’s painting, and this makes the viewer concentrate more on the performers, their performance and their voices.

Director Sarna LaPine has cleverly filled the stage with a great supporting cast, including Robert Sean Leonard, Penny Fuller, Ruthie Ann Miles, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jenni Barber, Phillip Boykin and Erin Davie, and weaves Act II to Act I together seamlessly. However, the detachment of the piece, even with the best of efforts and intentions can never be eliminated. For a lot of people, Sunday in the Park with George can fall in the category of not my cup of tea.


Edited by Scott Harrah
Published March 2, 2017
Reviewed at performance on March 1, 2017

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: Jake Gyllenhaal & Penny Fuller. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Sunday in the Park with George

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: Annaleigh Ashford. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: Annaleigh Ashford & Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’: Annaleigh Ashford & Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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