by Jerri Starbuck
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George plays ZACH’s Topfer Stage from May 30–June 24, 2018 under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley, with musical direction by Allen Robertson. The musical centers around Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot, not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.
There was a stark difference between the first half and the second half of the show. Act I followed the lovebirds Dot and George, on an island on the Seine river, at the gates of Paris-mostly in the park and sometimes in the studio. The two are so in love and spend much time together and admiring each other and his art as he paints his most famous work (while she complains they are working on a Sunday). There were moments of hilarity from the cast and there were some nice scenes with George and his mother as she sits for him in the park. Dot becomes pregnant but George stays stuck in his work. She meets someone and heads off to America to start a new life and family. “George resigns himself to the likelihood that creative fulfillment may always take precedence for him over personal happiness (“Finishing the Hat”)”-Wikipedia.
Act II was set forward 100 years to 1984- a fun, modern scene at an American art museum. They are gathered for the unveiling George’s great-grandson George’s (yes, confusing) latest work, a reflection on Seurat’s painting in the form of a light machine called “Chromolume #7”. An energetic strobe/light performance enhanced the scene. They are all sharing memories about George (who died suddenly at 31). Although a little confusing, George’s great grandson George, is there with his mother Marie (Dots daughter) who is now 98 and in a wheelchair. She shares the story of the painting. Marie later dies and the final scene is a reflection. ‘George reads from a book he inherited from his grandmother and ponders the similarities between himself and his great-grandfather. A vision of Dot appears and greets George. He confides his doubts to her and she tells him to stop worrying about whether his choices are right and simply make them (“Move On”).-Wikipedia.
The music is of course a huge reason for the popularity of the show. Multi-award-winner, Sondheim (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, and tons more) is masterful and a highlight of the show. We loved the unusual mix of the orchestra live on stage with the musical (not in a pit below the stage).
Although the story is quite side, it does mimic the artist’s life as we know it. One of isolation and dedication to their craft, at the expense of relationships, social lives, family, and love. Washington Jr. (as George) was fantastic and a standout. Jill Blackwood (Dot) was also impressive. On Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the Broadway revival.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Cecil Washington, Jr. *George
Jill Blackwood *Dot / Marie
Janis Stinson *Old Lady / Blair Daniels
Amber QuickMrs. / Nurse / Harriet Pawling
Tyler JonesFranz / Dennis
Brian Coughlin *Man / Mr. / Lee Randolph
Bruce BowenBather Boy
Logan MarcumBather Boy
Amy Downing *Yvonne / Naomi Eisen
Jamie Goodwin *Jules / Bob Greenberg
Paul SanchezLouis / Billy Webster
Matthew Treviño *Boatman / Charles Redmond
Amanda CliftonCeleste #2 / Elaine ; Understudy for Dot / Marie
Sarah Marie CurryCeleste #1 / Waiter
Lara WrightFrieda / Betty
Connor BarrYoung Man / Soldier #1 / Alex
J. Dylan GibsonSolider #2 / Photographer
Emily VillarrealUnderstudy for Celeste #2 / Elaine