Theatre Is Easy: “Sunday in the Park With George”

Written by Theatre Is Easy

BOTTOM LINE: Not Sondheim’s best work, but a really beautiful revival of a really beautiful musical based on the life of French painter Georges Seurat.

The revival of Sunday in the Park With George comes direct from London, after an amazingly successful run first at a smaller theater (an off-Broadway kind of venue) and then at a larger theater in London’s West End. It’s everything a revival should be: a new adaptation of a story that has already told, adjusted for the today’s audience while still maintaining the authenticity of the script — not to be confused with revivals that are simply rehashed creations that fit the original staging moment-to-moment (ahem, A Chorus Line). The revival of Sunday in the Park With George uses projections and animations to fill the space and create an artistic angle to a play based on art, while also adding depth and life to the set. These elements enhance the story in such a clever and visually effective way; the end result is pretty impressive.

So here’s the thing: I like art a lot, but I also grew up in the ’80s and my attention span doesn’t last more than 30 minutes at a time (without a commercial break for Ecto Cooler). When I go to a museum, I’m great for about an hour, maybe two if it’s modern art. Sunday in the Park With George is like a lovely trip to a museum that lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes. It was a bit too much art for me, but I suppose for the more sophisticated art aficionado, it’s not overkill at all. It’s unfortunately not the greatest score ever, but there are a couple of songs that stand out and the cast is very good. The story is pretty solid and actually really informative (I now know more about Seurat than any other painter), and the storytelling technique is clever as well.

Act I is set in mid-19th-century Paris. Georges Seurat is an underappreciated painter trying to perfect a new method of painting called pointillism, while finishing his big painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (see painting above). The subjects of this painting are all real people in Seurat’s life, and he paints them whether they like it or not. At the end of Act I, they all come together and take their places in the painting. Act II takes place in America in the ’80s at an art gallery. Seurat’s great-grandson George is an artist who creates light installations, and he shows his newest work while he pays homage to his family history. His grandmother, Seurat’s daughter, is there to cheer him on. Although somewhat based on fact (Seurat was a real person and A Sunday Afternoon is a real piece he painted), the story is an embellishment of what could have happened in his life. The book to the musical won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985. (For more info on the story, check the Wikipedia page here.)

Sunday in the Park With George is a really lovely musical, and this staging is unique and smart. If you like musical theatre and Sondheim, it’s a must see; this is classic Sondheim. If you want a romantic and/or traditional night out at the theatre, this is a good bet too. If you want anything other than beautiful, traditional musical theatre, look elsewhere.

Sunday in the Park With George plays at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., and is currently in previews. Tickets are $36.25-$121.25 ($21.25 if you’re under 35 — visit hiptix.com); for tickets call 212-719-1300 or visit roundabouttheatre.org.

Check out theatreiseasy.com for more NY theatre reviews and information!