Annaleigh Ashford and Jake
Gyllenhaal Photos Credit Matthew Murphy
the Park with George
By Jeanne Lieberman
bill it as a “Special Event” maybe because it is the first production in Broadway’s
oldest theater, the painstakingly re- renovated 100 year old Hudson Theater. Its
muted atmosphere a strange foil for a show devoted to color.
“special” because of its short eight week run (thus disqualifying it from the Tony
alone don’t make it special.
does is the show itself.
you ever hear a painting sing?
is exactly what happens in the glorious climax of the first act as we have
witnessed the very disciplined, both artistically and emotionally, young George
Seurat, who, in 1893 was first ridiculed and later revered for his Post Impressionist
technique of Pointillism, a rather scientific approach to the creative process
in which individual dots of different colors on the canvas merge in the eye of
the beholder to form the original brighter color the artist intended.
composer Stephen Sondheim’s unique disciplined score reflects and
the process musically in the precise, staccato, controlled phrasing that
identifies his music from others.
literally mind over matter in both cases.
Lapine’s lean book combines them both.
Gyllenhaal certainly walks comfortably in the celebrated shoes of Mandy Patinkin,
the George Seurat role’s creator in l984. It is a tour de force for his broad
range of vocalizations from full throated to floating, a true musical theater
meet young George, a familiar sight, 1884 to1886, in a park just outside Paris,
where he painted the strollers and locals parading there. He is working on his future
masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island
of La Grande Jatte”.
the parade and his principal subject is his adoring mistress/model Dot
(Annaleigh Ashford) frustrated in the knowledge that George appreciates her more
as a model than in the flesh, an unhappy situation made more obvious as he
turns away from her when she births his child, a daughter she calls Marie.
the remoteness of his character is George’s mother,(the wonderful Penny Fuller)
who endures and echoes his detachment from basic human bonds, watching him
prefer his relationship to the strangers he depicts in his careful
of the pedestrian assemblage immortalized in his painting is
the brutal one-eyed boatman (Philip Boykin),
the playful nurse (Jennifer Sanchez), “everybody loves Louis” (Jordan Gelber), two
giddy girls (Jenny Barber and Ashley Park) and 2 gendarmes, a little dog, an embittered
roustabout, a precocious little girl, and so on, each given small parts by way
of interaction but none fully realized other than their purpose- as models for
they assemble for a final arrangement they tease the audience with confidential
complaints… I hate this dress, my proportion is wrong, you’re holding my hand
too tight, it’s hot, even under a parasol.
Act I culminates
in a riveting rush as George shifts scenery and people, practically a lecture
demonstration of the composition – inexorably building as characters reappear
and slip into place, and brought to pulsating life in the show’s title song
And that is
where the painting sings! And so does the show.
It could have
ended right there and none would complain. But that is too conventional for the
Lapine/Sondheim duo, so they, as always, proceed to an abrupt turnaround,
connecting with and contradicting the first half
off the lead before the intermission – having a good time? – not for long in a Sondheim
is now 1983.
Marie, the now ancient daughter of Dot, has
been invited along to an exhibit by her grandson George, an American sculptor,
struggling to find a new art form in the same quest for self realization that led
his great grandfather to Pointillism. He wants to create a new art form utilizing
color-and-light via dispensing machines called chromolumes.
As the sole person
who knew him her insights and addenda fill in the blanks to get us to the present.
Act I characters re-emerge as modern day counterparts of his earlier subjects:
few supportive, others dismissive or competitive. His anxieties crescendo into
what has become the show’s, and Sondheim’s, anthem, “Putting It Together…bit by
bit” referring both to the technique and the responsibilities of “the art of making art.”
In a contrived and
surprisingly sentimental time-traveling segue the Seurat of the
first act and his descendant of the second act are guided by the young Dot, who
tried to draw Georges into the world he avoided, while Marie wants the modern George
to return to his original passion for the work in ”Move on”, Marie’s final plea to George to pick up where his great-grandfather
left off, leading into a stunning reprieve of the title song “Sunday”.
award winning Annaleigh Ashford once again displays her versatility by playing both
young Dot and mature Marie. Jake Gyllenhaal conquers the impossibilities of a Sondheim
score with verve and ease. It is unfortunate that the role will not be
qualified for the Tony it deserves, but his performance will not be forgotten.
The orchestra, under the baton of musical
director/conductor Chris Fenwick, captures the sharp precision of the first act
then delivers the surprisingly lush orchestrations of “Sunday” completing Sondheim’s
soaring statement spectacularly. Director Sarna Lapine (James niece) directs
with a sure hand. Veteran Light designer Ken Billington never quite captures the
quality referred to in the production, perhaps limited by the antiquated
theater itself and the overall effect is muted despite efforts of set designer Beowulf
Britt, costume designer Clint Ramos, but projection designer Tal Yarden brings
The orchestra concludes and plays the
audience out, swept along on an irresistible musical wave of art, the artist
The production won
the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as two Tony Awards for design (and a
nomination for Best Musical), numerous Drama Desk Awards, and the 1991 Olivier
Award for Best Musical.
those whose appetite for more of Seurat’s art (and who isn’t?) the
Metropolitan Museum of Art has an
exhibit “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” continuing till May 29th