Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George
a kate west review
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine
Director: Calvin Remsberg, Musical Director: Allen Everman II, Artistic Director: Les Hanson
West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles (323) 525-0022
March 14 through May 4, 2003

Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical masterpiece, “Sunday in the Park with George” comes to vibrant life in the West Coast Ensemble’s delightful new production. Having seen their spectacular production of “Cabaret” a few years ago I was anticipating wonderful things. Most of my expectations were met from the clever set design (a blank white canvas eventually turned into a gorgeous work of art) and lovely costumes to the well-defined ensemble cast and outstanding directing by Calvin Remsberg.

The George in the title refers to French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891), whose most famous piece, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” is literally the set piece for this musical. Stef Tovar is a wonderfully sensitive and haunted George, depicting Seurat’s artistic obsession (in the brilliantly written songs “Color and Light” and “Finishing the Hat”) as the necessary element to achieve greatness, but causing him to fail at human relationships. He is at least partially redeemed in the second half, when his descendent and modern counterpart, also named George, becomes frustrated with the art world (“Putting It Together”) and with the help of his grandmother Marie (Dana Reynolds), realizes that it is family that holds people together.

Less strong is Dana Reynolds’ weary lover, Dot, who cannot hold on to Seurat, as she finally realizes in the songs “We Do Not Belong Together” and “Move On.” The rest of the cast performs well, most of them portraying characters from the painting in the first act as well as modern art aficionados in Act Two. Some standouts include Steven Connor’s Jules, a rival of Seurat and Jan Sheldrick as Seurat’s mother.

The two best moments in the musical occur when we see the fruition of Seurat’s hard work come to life as the actors actually become the famous painting and then start complaining about being stuck there (“Sunday” and “It’s Hot Up Here”). The other is the finale when the same characters return to serenade the modern George with another rendition of “Sunday,” defining the moment where family history and the nature of art come together. There are many such enchanting moments which completely absorb the audience into a magical musical Sondheim world. James Lapine’s story also superbly conveys the complexities of life vs. art.

This is not to say the production was completely flawless, however. Musical Director Allen Everman II needs to have a stern word with his brass section as they were often tentative and even slightly off-key. Aside from that, this production is as poignant, charming, sincere and well-executed as the original Broadway version. And as musicals are finally coming back into vogue, I recommend treating yourself to a good Sondheim musical.

Sunday in the Park with George (1984 Original Broadway Cast)

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