Sunday in the Park with George
Georges Seurat’s famous painting is instantly recognizable by many, but have many people considered how it feels to take two years to craft a work of art? Stephen Sondheim had, and he composed the musical A Sunday in the Park with George. CJSF Radio’s Elana Chan attended one of the rare performances presented by APPLAUSE! Musicals in Concert, at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts from October 3 to 6, 2007.
The stage opens with a white blank screen. The year is 1884, a fictional George Seurat (Christopher King) is sketching people, all dressed in white, spending their Sundays on the French island. He is gathering material to create his would-be famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Piece by piece the painting is projected onto the white background, although rather scrupulously slow. Unlike the lighthearted title suggests, Sunday in the Park with George talks about Seurat’s obsession with his work, and his mistress Dot’s frustration in failing to attract Seurat’s attention. Seurat is portrayed as a brilliant artist with much more social skills to be desired – he does not talk unless it is necessary, nor does he paint for the approval of others.
Musical numbers carried the entire play, though it was difficult to make the distinction between each one. The melodies sounded very similar and appeared to form one continuous piece for the entire 120 minute show. The similarity between songs and the slowness of plot development left the me wondering if the play would ever end.
As with most musical productions, there is little producers can do to alter the pace of the show, as actors can generally speak faster, but cannot very well sing faster than the melody. Regardless, Steven Greenfield's piano performance was mesmerizing and added some much needed drama to the actors’ dialogues. Each actor carried a script binder, which restricted their movements and great enthusiasm.
Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George won the Pulitzer Award for Drama in 1985. It is notable that this drama/fantasy play is inspired by a man who wanted to experiment with more innovative approach to his art than his predecessors, during an era when science was gaining momentum. Seurat painted distinctive colours side by side and let the audience's eyes blend them together to create new colors. Sondheim’s musical prompts to imagine what the life of an artist, living in the society but isolated at the same time. Perhaps the disconnectedness of the characters in the play was intentional, in order to mirror George's detachment from the world. He only heard bits and pieces about people's lives as he painted, and emotionally he was removed from all but his art.
Sunday in the Park with George is performed at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts from October 3 to 6, 2007. To find out more about upcoming productions of APPLAUSE! Musicals in Concert, which showcases many local talents, visit the APPLAUSE! Musicals Society’s website at www.applausemusicals.com.