Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Peter DuBois
Music directed by Eric Stern
Choreographed by Daniel Pelzig
Orchestrations and new chromolume music by Michael Starobin
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Sunday in the Park with George (SitPwG) is a Sondheim/Lapine musical not frequently performed. That’s probably because it’s not nearly exciting as his more popular shows. Yet, It behooves the hundreds of area artists to go see it for their own personal education. Theatre advocates and appreciators should attend because it simply gorgeous across the board. The Huntington gives us a fine production.
Georges Seurat (Adam Chanler-Berat) is busily creating his most famous masterwork, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” He is secretive, obsessed and ignoring his lover/muse Dot (Jenni Barber). He appears to be in the midst of a neurotic OCD episode (or possible on the autistic spectrum). He is birthing a new art form, pointillism. In the musical, life goes on around Seurat. We meet a plethora of fascinating characters and watch as he completes his work. The writing is as good as Woods and Sweeny and it channels the curiosity of The Frogs.
A racist officer in Tulsa, AZ shot and killed Terence Crutcher last week. Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled man, was shot by another racist cop while reading a book as he waited for his son to come home on Tuesday. Approximately 50% of the US population is preparing to vote for a bigoted, tangerine Ass-Bugle who goads violence when he speaks. Before taking you back to my review of Sunday in the Park with George, we’re going to address how we as a society (because if the least of us is culpable then we are all culpable) are actively enabling the systematic murders of people of color by remaining impassive to injustice. Black people are dying; it is entirely preventable.
Here’s how you can help: Get involved. If you see casual racism happening, end it. If you see overt racism in action, peacefully shut it down. If a person of color tells you their story, believe it. Actively support them. Show up to protests. If a protest bothers you, keep your hate to yourself. Teach your children, friends, neighbors or other that people who are different are not bad. Smash hate when you see it (and you will see it). Be better people to each other without expecting reciprocation.
Being right or nice is not more important than being just. Protests can’t be both polite and effective. We don’t have a “diversity problem;” we have a “violent white people” problem. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. We white people need to show up and shut up until all lives matter as much as white ones. http://www.killedbypolice.net/
Now, back to our regularly scheduled review: More than just a musical about an artist, SitPwG is about the general but personal experiences of artists mid-creation. It is specifically about Seurat but sends messages that all artists can identify with: Artists don’t work because art comes naturally to them. There’s nothing natural about the discipline, frustration, focus, struggle and tedious repetition necessary to create. The depth of the inaccuracy of such a statement indicates virtuosic level of ignorance into artistic practice. Even second-rate art requires hours of dedication and struggle. Which is why it is so extraordinary that the cast of SitPwG makes their performances seem easy.
Sondheim’s is not easy music to learn. He replicates human speech with his compositions and lyrics. Speech may come easy to a conversation but its rhythmic patterns are a pain when adapted to a score. Barber’s performance of the title song (and all of her work as Dot and Marie) appeared effortlessly beautiful. Knowing what the score looks like makes her performance that much more impressive. The same can be said of Chanler-Berat who was so consumed by his character that he became Seurat on stage.
In addition, Todd A Horman as the Boatman delivers a fascinating performance. His character is relatively small but Horman presents his grumbly character with immediate clarity. In mere seconds, we know who he is and what purpose he serves. That he sincerely loves his dog makes him likable.
Bravi to the designers. The costume design by Robert Morgan is enviable. The wigs in the second act are so 80’s it hurts to look at them. Seriously. Christopher Akerlind caught the delicious effect of daylight on upturned faces with his lighting design. Scenic designer Derek McLane brought Seurat’s painting to life in ways that have to be seen to be believed.
The production is full of local actors. Good! Add more. (Still your move American Repertory Theatre)
Sunday in the Park with George isn’t high drama or even medium drama. It’s a comedic musical about scientific art with some interesting, sometimes weird music. The Huntington’s production is very good but not everyone will leave the theater overwhelmed with deep feelings of life changing gratitude. Artists will probably do but civilians likely won’t. It’s a musical for we artists. That’s OK. Not everything is for everyone.