A CurtainUp Review
Sunday in the Park with George
This is a fine production of a fine work. In 1983 it was the first Stephen Sondheim -James Lapine collaboration. It's admirable for the remarkable concept —, close pairing of art and music, the repetitions, the pixilation, the boinky piano, the sheer dotty inventiveness. All the separate dots that are visibly and aurally connected —not to mention the bright lyrics just waiting to be quoted.
Georges Seurat (Jeffrey Coon), at the center of the story, paints A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. He has huge problems expressing feelings outside of his art and he pays the price for his held-back, sublimated emotions. This magnificent musical also pays the price, with its sense of loss, its unsatisfied wistfulness, and the contrived feel of its closure.
One of the biggest differences between this production and the London and New York revivals is the Arden's resuscitation of the complete score of the 1984 Broadway production. Musical Director Eric Ebbenga conducts an 11 piece orchestra that is rich, yet meticulous, and just the right size for the original arrangement, which was composed for a small orchestra.
Before seeing this show I assumed that the multimedia dimensions would be based on the work done in the recent revivals. But no. In fact, director Nolen and sound/ video/ multimedia designer, Jorge Cousineau, who conceived this show together, purposely didn't see the Roundabout show in NYC in order to arrive independently at their approach and vision.
Although there are no animated jumping dogs here, there are other amusements to savor. Act one features drawings in progress and flipping sketchbook pages. In act two (the PR and management segment of the show), there is the crazy and spectacular handling of the Chromolume #7 installation and the interactive video clones that aid the artist's schmoozing, plus a stunning video backdrop of the painting's site in the present-day.
Barrymore Award winner Jeffrey Coon (I have lost count of his Barrymore Award nominations), an estimable actor and powerful singer, has been a pleasure to watch over the last several years. He is an appealing choice for the lead role. Also a skilled comic actor, his rendition of the dogs singing in The Day Off is not to be missed.
Kristine Fraelich sings the mistress Dot role well, but she is much more interesting as the ancient Marie in the second act, which takes place a century later. All in the large cast are solid actors and talented singers. Especially notable are Scott Greer as a stylish, measured Jules; Maureen Torsney-Weir as the difficult mother; Darren Michael Hengst as Franz and Dennis, and Michael "Tuba" McKinsey as A Boatman. The little girl (Danielle Standifer) is just perfect.
A president of the Costume Designers Guild once noted that costume is one of the director's most effective tools for telling a story. In the case of this musical it's a double challenge. One challenge is to animate Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and the other is to tell its story. Costume designer Rosemarie E. McKelvey surely has helped the director to meet the challenge. Scenic designer James Kronzer and Justin Townsend (lighting), along with choreographer and multimedia collaborator Niki Cousineau contributed significantly to the special look of this complex Arden production.
As Mr. Sondheim concluded: "I applaud them for their commitment to not scaling back their art, especially at this time of economic uncertainty. I give my blessings and thanks to the Arden and everything they stand for."