|Photo by Matthew Murphy|
|Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George|
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Perhaps one of, if not the hottest ticket of this season is the Broadway transfer of the New York City Center “semi-staged” production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George. Now in the final week of its limited engagement at the newly re-opened Hudson Theatre, it’s last chance saloon to see this masterpiece of art – and our #ShowOfTheWeek - come alive.
“Art isn’t easy” as the famous lyric goes in Sondheim’s Act II musical number “Putting It Together,” yet the creators of this production certainly make it look easy as they have indeed put together a compelling incarnation of Sunday in the Park where the motto “Less is More” has never been more apt. Art goes hand in hand with imagination and director Sarna Lapine, aided by set designer Beowulf Boritt and lighting designer Ken Billington, give us just enough visual stimulus to create the full painting in our own minds. The projections of shade, colour and light onto the upstage scrim, as Georges Seurat sketches and paints away, are constantly breathing and evolving. In addition, Clint Ramos’ costumes are simplistic and rich in colour, as if lifted straight from one of Georges’ paintings themselves.
In the first act, set between 1884 and 1886, the musical tells the story of French artist Georges Seurat (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the creation of what would become his landmark piece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The conflict stems largely from his lover Dot (Annaleigh Ashford) who fights a losing battle for Georges’ attention against the painter’s all-consuming art. In the second act, which leaps forward a century to 1984, we meet Georges’ descendants at an American art museum. Ashford has slipped into the role of a 98 year old by the name of Marie (Georges’ biological daughter), whilst Gyllenhaal plays Georges’ great-grandson, who is also an artist named George. He is presenting his installation of lights and music entitled “Chromolumes,” but is suffering from a creativity breakdown. It’s only when he makes a trip to the iconic Island in the Seine, just outside of Paris, and thanks to the fantastical encounters with Dot and Georges’ mother, that he is able to “Move On” as an artist and as a man.
Jake Gyllenhaal literally knocks it out of the park with surprisingly accomplished vocals. Who knew he had the singing pipes and that he would be able to master Sondheim, of all composers, so sovereignly? His rendition of “Finishing the Hat” is a goose-bumps-inducing highlight of the night. He is more than matched by the playful and moving performance of Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford, who beautifully sets the tone at the beginning of the musical with its title song and proves she is one of the best comic actors Broadway currently has to offer with her portrayal of the much older Marie in Act II. Indeed the entire company, whose rendition of “Sunday” you simply never want to end, is brimming with stellar performances from the likes of Ruthie Ann Miles and Robert Sean Leonard, among many others.
Two other rewarding aspects of this production worth noting would be the large, onstage orchestra, still visible behind the scrim, which fills the intimate Hudson Theatre with Sondheim’s marvellous score and the “Chromolume #7” lights display that dazzle above the heads of the patrons in the orchestra stalls. The latter mirrors the production itself in that the device is simple yet utterly mesmerizing.
The production has honourably removed itself from contention during this year’s awards season, giving longer-running productions a larger chance at recognition. Otherwise, I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised to see Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Ashford in their respective Tony nomination categories. Don’t hesitate to snap up the last remaining tickets for this musical event of the season!
Click here for tickets to Sunday in the Park with George for performances through to April 23, 2017 at Broadway's Hudson Theatre.
- by Tom Millward