by Lynn on February 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Note: I was only able to see the last performance of Sunday in the Park with George on Feb. 6. But it is worth comment.

At the Mady Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Steve Ross
Musical director, Mark Camilleri
Set and Costumes: Laura Gardner
Lighting by Joe Pagnan
Cast: Sean Arbuckle
Tess Benger
Shane Carty
David Coomber
Alexis Gordon
Alana Hibbert
Judy Marshak
Mike Nadajewski
Glynis Ranney
Diana Smendra
Jennifer Stewart

A terrific production with an intense, focused performance by Mike Nadajewski and the rest of the cast is dandy too.

Comment. Imagine it, a musical about the creation of a painting. In this case the painting is “An Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat. Seurat painted in Paris in the 1800s. He created a different technique of painting. Instead of brush strokes he painted in dots. He placed different coloured dots of paint beside each other and the eye of the observer, standing back to admire the painting, melded the paint into a different colour. So if there was a series of blue and yellow dots beside each other the eye would naturally blend them into green. If the observer stood close to the painting, he/she would see the distinct coloured dots and standing back, the dots blended into the colour that would result when you mixed the two different colours of the dots. The imagination and the eye are miraculous things. The fact that Seurat knew that this phenomenon would happen, is amazing.

Act One George goes to the Island of La Grande Jatte to sketch the characters. He goes back to his studio later to create the painting. His girlfriend Dot is one of his models. She is impatient, uncomfortable, because she has to hold the pose too long, and anxious to have fun with George. He is intent on painting. He promises her they would go to the Follies, then gets distracted by “Finishing the Hat” on one of his characters. Dot is pregnant with George’s child. George might love Dot, but he is obsessed with his painting. He is obsessed with being recognized and disappointed when this doesn’t happen in his lifetime. Dot finds a kind of happiness with a baker and moves with him to America.

Georges Seurat finished his masterpiece along with only 5 others and died at 31. “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” hangs in the Art Institute in Chicago.

He also painted “Bathers at Asnières” which shows another group of people lounging by the bank of the Seine. In this painting the people on this bank are looking across the water at the folks on the Island of La Grande Jatte. This painting hangs in the National Gallery in London. In a perfect world these paintings would be facing each other on the same wall.

Sunday in the Park With George introduced me to this artist and his paintings. Every time I’m in Chicago, the Art Institute is the first place I go, to see ‘my’ painting. The first time I saw it, I cried. The last time I saw it, ditto.

Act II has always been a problem for this musical. In it Sondheim presents a modern day artist, also named George, who is the great-grandson of Georges Seurat (Dot gave birth to a daughter, Marie, and Marie is George’s grandmother). George has created a machine called the Chromolume which ‘paints’ with coloured light. He also needs a state of the art computer to co-ordinate the technology. He has built seven such Chromolumes. One long-time assistant is moving on to other challenges. He is tired of building the Chromolume that seems to do the same thing. George has his own doubts as well. So in a way the great-grandson is carrying on the unconventional attitudes of the great grandfather towards the creation of art.

I love this musical, as do I love all of Sondheim’s work. I love how Sondheim writes the exact music and lyrics that create the particular characteristics of his characters. George sings in short clipped music and lyrics for “Finishing the Hat”, just like the dots he is darting at the canvas. There is the yearning and longing of the melodic “We Do Not Belong Together” sung by Dot and George, as just two examples.

Sondheim has moved the form of musical theatre forward. Rather than writing soaring melodic, hummable music that’s very nice and easy and inconsequential, he writes music that exactly fits the character who sings it, in the lyrics that perfectly depict the character. He writes about substance, art and creating. And I can hum and sing his music. It’s a challenge. Those who love Sondheim are up for that challenge.

Director Steve Ross and his company of strong actor/singers were up for that challenge too. Steve Ross used the simplest of props and projections to create the world of the musical and finally, the painting. George re-arranges characters, a cut-out of a dog and a monkey are shifted around, and then the whole painting is set, too music. Fantastic scene. I always cry.

As George, Mike Nadajewski is focused, intense and totally committed. His voice is strong and pure. Painting the imaginary dots on the imaginary canvas is done with short snaps of the wrist. The brush seems to become a pulsing dart. I can imagine George’s obsession with ‘Finishing the Hat’ because of the intense way that Nadajewski paints or draws or focuses. As Dot, Glynis Ranney is serene, wistful, calm and of course yearns for George. She also plays the grandmother in Act II and is a bit absent minded and forgetful. Both Nadajewski and Ranney give wonderful performances, as do all the others.

Bravo to Arkady Spivak, the Artistic Producer of Talk Is Free Theatre, for programming this.

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