Sunday in the Park with George * is yet another a revival of the original play originally done in 1983 and a few times after that in London and Broadway. It has won a Pulitzer prize in 1985 among many other awards for a musical and is based on the french artist Georges Seurat’s painting called "A Sunday afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jette" and the selected play to reopen the Hudson Theatre. The show began on February 23rd 2017 and runs until April 23rd 2017. Its running time is 2 hours and 35 mins with one intermission.
When my beau initially pitched the idea to me, I had not known of the play nor the painting despite us both being two art buffs. I looked at the painting and wondered “how does one make a play based on a painting?”
To keep the element of surprise, I did minimal research on it to be thoroughly surprised and enchanted on the day of. And I was not disappointed.
We arrived to the historic, newly remodeled Hudson theatre which has not hosted a production in nearly 50 years. To the left you see the bright, glowing neon lights which say some Sondheim's words of wisdom, “Anything you do, let it come from you and then it will be new” and a bar. After checking in, you are given a glass of Möet & Chandon Nectar Imperial and directed to the Ambassador lounge where your coat is taken and you are shown seats in the lounge which contains a bar and private restroom. You are then led to the intimate setting of the auditorium. Our seats were in the third row to the right.
The play was originally created as fictional take on the artist’s life with music and direction by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, now directed by his niece, Sarna Lapine. It starts you off in the setting of France, 1884 where Dot, artist model and the lead’s love interest is standing in the park as a model for Georges. Whilst Georges begins his sketching, Dot tries her very best to stand still, battling her irritations and heat while still vying for his attention and affection. As the act continues, you being to meet the characters played by extraordinary talented individuals who come with the flavorings of well marinated theatrical experience- one by one will have a role to play in the final painting. Each with their own restless agenda and story. Conspicuously and simultaneously a new “tower” is being constructed in Paris and other art works by Seurat are manifested from the scenes.
The costuming done by Clint Ramos is clean, solid and boldly colored. Symmetrical and straight, reflecting the very style of Seurat’s art. This is centered on the minimalistic set designed by Beowulf Boritt, which for the entirety of the play, the outstanding orchestra is visible on the stage covered only be a thin veil of fabric screen representing Seurat’s canvas which gradually gets filled with his work as the production carries on.
The lead of the play and treat to see in person is performed by Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake is no stranger to the big screen and for years has had major roles in many major motion pictures. He up until then had not appealed to me as a favorite actor but I still enjoyed his movies. However, described by the NY times’ Ben Brantley as having “laser point” focus and "a searing theatrical presence, in which his eyes are his center of gravity", he certainly proved himself as a force on the stage. His focus was something to behold, his switch in emotions, his change in character from a 19th century French artist to his 21st century great grandson in Chicago. And his voice! Who knew he had such a singing voice on him? My respect for him as an actor has certainly shot up and I consider myself honored to have been able to see him perform in person. One noteworthy act within the play was his adoption of the constitution of a dog whose silhouette is featured in the final painting.
As for his female counterpart, Tony award winner Annaleigh Ashford is a seasoned broadway actress notable for appearances as, Glinda in Wicked and a major role in Kinky Boots. Her natural talents and comfort on stage was evident. Every single facial expression and eye movement was something to captivate you and her character co-incidentally yet aptly named Dot, Georges’ love interest with an absolutely opposite personality to him- full of heart, flight, affection and an almost childlike disposition which made you fall in love with her right away while Jake’s character, was brooding, focused, full of soul, drive and bordering on obsession over "finishing the hat” as he feverishly dabs paint at an imaginary canvas which, in the mind’s eye at that moment, is not imaginary at all.
After a few scenes you begin to learn his character and note that the same hunger Dot has for Georges, is the same he has for his artwork. This alienates him from his peers and Dot herself, despite his affection for her.
“But how George looks - He could look at you forever. As if he sees you and doesn’t all at once.” -Dot
Georges Seurat was of the first artists to come up with the notion of a new form of art known as “Pointillism” done with Paul Signac in the 1880’s , a technique adopted by Van Gogh for use on his famous self portrait. Thus, one of the important songs that sticks in your head while simultaneously growing your appreciation for Gyllenhaal as an actor and singer is a rendition where he sings as he vigorously paints said hat to the tone of “dot dot dot dot blue red yellow..”
The idea behind this, is without any mixing of the palette the colors but rather placing close together on the canvas so the person viewing it mixes the colors with their eyes. Stemming from impressionism and no doubt ground breaking at the time thus with any ground breaking nation comes the antagonism by the wider viewing public- which is exactly what Seurat experiences. Most of all by his peer and “frenemy” in Jules, played by Robert Sean Lennard known dos for his role as Wilson in the medical tv show, House.
Eventually, Georges' obsession with his work is too much for defeated yet hopeful Dot who is now pregnant. This culminates in a song entitled “We Do Not Belong Together” despite the evident yearning between them both.
She sets off to America with a new husband and child, Marie. But right before, Act 1 comes to its climax showing the characters in perfect place in accordance with the painting. As if it has come to life.
There is then a half an hour intermission where you can head back to the Ambassador Lounge and enjoy a glass of champagne or cocktail, use a private restroom and then head back to the show. Careful though, if you make it after the scene starts, you will have to wait at the back until it (the scene) ends.
Act 2 then begins as a eulogy of sorts where the characters from the painting all one by one disclose their surprisingly affectionate thoughts on the artist after he tragically dies at 31. This scene is then followed by another, set in a modern day setting at the Art Institute of Chicago, where in reality the original painting currently resides.
Marie, who was the child of Georges and Dot, is now the grandmother of George. An innovator who uses a light installation to create a modern version of the same concept initially put forward by his great grand father, called Chromulume #7. You begin to see all of the same cast members wearing similar costumes but a modernized version to their 1800’s counterparts in a reception. This follows an actual live display put on in the Hudson theater right over the heads of the patrons actually sitting in the first few rows. After George sings about the what is involved in gaining recognition and funding for his project, Marie laments over the painting and her mother’s feature in it. Prior to her death comes an invitation from the French government, to put this show on, however she dies before the trip. A despondent and unsure George travels to Paris to recreate this and in a moment of reflection while reading and old grammar book previously owned by Dot with personal notes in the back of the book containing thoughts and words of both his great grandparents, he is met by her ghost, who mistakes him for his great grandfather. He meets one by one, the same characters from the original painting and the last scene, much like this latest revival by Ms. Lapine- concludes in a final musical piece centered around "Anything you do, let it come from you- and then it will be new. "
Once again the painting comes alive in front your very eyes.
If you are in NYC, I highly recommend taking a trip to the Met after seeing the play to look at the exhibition entitled “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” where many of the artist's sketches and material related to color mixing and pointillism are on display including the painting Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), painted in 1887–88. It is running from February 17 - May 29th, 2017 at the The Met Fifth Avenue, Galleries 964-965, Robert Lehman Wing.
*photos of production are not my own and are belong with full rights to The Hudson Broadway.