Sunday In The Park With George: an affecting portrait of the artistic impulse

The Guthrie Theater, through August 20

Randy Harrison and Erin Mackey in Sunday In The Park With George. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The design! The Guthrie‘s Sunday In The Park With George features richly fab work by projection designer Caite Hevner and by lighting designer Jane Cox. Their Sunday is gloriously, breath-takingly, mesmerizingly colorful. I’m unsure where the lighting leaves off and where the projections begin, so I’m lumping the two together (unfairly, no doubt); I spent the afternoon marveling at the beauty they’ve wrought. Toni-Leslie James‘s costumes nicely capture the sweaty claustrophobia of a Parisian summer. Elisheba Ittoop‘s sound soars and Jan Chambers has created a perfect canvas on which these all these artists work. Wow.

Only the G has the physical plant (and the mighty budget) to do work like this. You won’t see it at CTC, nor at the Orpheum. Maybe, sometimes, occasionally, at the Ordway. The Guthrie is unique, and we’re lucky to be sharing a city with them. G tickets are not cheap, but when you look at plays like Sunday In The Park With George, tickets are a bargain. Enough said.

The acting in Sunday In The Park With George is also terrific. The two leads, Randy Harrison and Erin Mackey, play and sing the roles of Georges Seurat and his rebellious model Dot pitch perfectly. One couldn’t ask for better. Could one? Still, I found myself looking longingly at the uber-talented locals – Cat Brindisi, David Darrow, Ann Michels, Sasha Andreev, et al – and wondering: Couldn’t they? But never mind. These artists play smaller roles, and play them brilliantly. All in all, the performances in Sunday In The Park With George are terrific. So who am I to complain?

Director Joseph Haj has mounted this challenging piece with taste and restraint. Wonderful.

Music is by the great Stephen Sondheim and the book is by accomplished James Lapine. Sunday In The Park With George is not, imho, their best work. The story, about the amazing pointilist Georges Seurat and his famous rendering of “A Sunday On The Isle Of La Grande Jatte”, meanders. Act Two is mostly about a contemporary artist, George, and his deft manipulation of nasty corporate money politics. The two acts fit imperfectly together. The play is long, and frustrating. Sondheim reuses a handful of musical ideas, repeatedly.

Still, many of the songs are stunners. Georges’s “Finishing The Hat” is a gorgeous celebration of the artist’s primacy. (“Look, I made a hat / Where there never was a hat”) And “Move On,” an anthem sung by George and a revived Dot, had tears running down my careworn critic kisser.

So: Sunday In The Park With George is imperfect, maybe. But, hey. This is Sondheim. This is the Guthrie. Could you ask for a better combination?

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit his informational website.







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