Theater Reviews

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Studio 54, New York City
Through June 1

Stephen Sondheim's Pulitzer-Prize winning musical "Sunday in the Park With George" has not received a major New York revival since its 1984 Broadway premiere, and it's easy to see why.

This complex, challenging work about post-impressionist painter George Seurat's creation of his masterwork "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" was brilliantly realized in the original production, directed by James Lapine and starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, and it's hard to imagine anything topping it.

Fortunately, that hasn't stopped the Roundabout Theater Company from importing this acclaimed London production, first produced by the intimate Menier Chocolate Factory and then on the West End. Cleverly utilizing still and animated projections to convey the painter's painstaking artistic process, this superbly staged and acted revival does ample justice to the material.

The work still reveals its problematic aspects, to be sure, especially in the schism between Act 1 -- detailing Seurat's work on the painting in 1884 even while coping with a messy personal life -- and Act 2, set in the present, depicting his fictional great-grandson's struggles in the contemporary art world.

Sondheim and book writer Lapine use brief, often oblique scenes and jagged musical fragments in a way that theatrically approximates Seurat's famed pointillist style. The results can feel rather disconnected, especially in its depiction of the troubled relationship between the painter (Daniel Evans) and Dot (Jenna Russell), the girlfriend and model who bore him a son.

But the work beautifully illustrates both the exuberant and exhausting aspects of the creative process with such songs as "Color and Light," "Finishing the Hat" and "Putting It Together." Sondheim's score is one of his most difficult, but these and several other numbers are undeniably gorgeous.

Director Sam Buntrock's high-tech production replaces the painted cutouts of the original with a clever use of video projections on a range of surfaces to detail the painter's exhaustive methods. They also are cannily employed in Act 2, when the modern-day George is premiering his light and video creation "Chromolume No. 7" to a group of well-funded art patrons. At one point, for instance, we see both the actual George and numerous video projections of him interacting with partygoers, amusingly conveying the hustling that has always been endemic to success in the art world. And the first-act finale, in which the famous painting is reproduced onstage, remains thrilling.

While one misses the neurotic intensity that Patinkin so memorably brought to the role, Evans does a superb job of conveying Seurat's creative fervor and his emotional obliviousness. He's well matched by the strong-voiced Russell, who provides both Dot and the elderly Marie in Act 2 with an intriguing steeliness. The large ensemble, which includes Michael Cumpsty as both Seurat's friend and fellow painter and a modern-day museum director, provide excellent support.

Sunday in the Park With George
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company

Credits: Music-lyrics: Stephen Sondheim; Book: James Lapine; Director: Sam Buntrock; Musical staging: Christopher Gattelli; Set/costume designer: David Farley; Lighting designer: Ken Billington; Sound designer: Sebastian Frost; Projection designer: Timothy Bird & the Knifedge Creative Network. Cast: George: Daniel Evans; Dot/Marie: Jenna Russell: Jules/Bob Greenberg: Michael Cumpsty; Boatman/Dennis: Alexander Gemignani; Yvonne/Naomi Eisen: Jessica Molaskey; Old Lady/Blair Daniels: Mary Beth Peil; Mr./Charles Redmond: Ed Dixon; Bather/Soldier/Alex: Santino Fontana; Celeste No. 2/A Photographer: Jessica Grove.

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