News Column

THEATER REVIEW: CONNECTING ALL THE DOTS

August 20, 2014

By Gail Choochan, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.



Aug. 21--Sondheim and Signature prove once again that they make a harmonious pair as the Arlington theater company opens its 25th anniversary season with one of his Broadway classics.

"Sunday in the Park With George," inspired by the pointillist painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," is now on view for a different kind of audience.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, from Sondheim and book writer James Lapine, envisions the lives of the Parisians who populated the famous 1884 painting as well as explores the mind of its creator.

George Seurat's masterpiece, measuring about 7 by 10 feet, is packed with almost 50 people not to mention eight boats, three dogs and a monkey--yes, a monkey. And the show itself is just as colorful as his grand work which now hangs at Chicago'sArt Institute.

With wonderful songs full of sweeping musical gestures and playful little notes, "Sunday in the Park With George" is a certainly a feast for the ears and eyes. Scenic designer Daniel Conway has brought the lively park scene to life, complete with sliding trees that disappear at a moment's notice. Under the scrutinizing eye of Seurat and his sketchpad, the drama-filled denizens of this park eventually make their way onto his canvas, including his own mother and his model/mistress Dot.

George's exchanges with his mother, played by Donna Migliaccio, show both a comical and touching side to their relationship; just listen closely to the song "Beautiful." The artist's connection with Dot, however, is complicated as he throws himself deeper into his work.

The second act--notably shorter--is a sharp contrast to the musical's earlier setting. No longer basking in the sun on La Grande Jatte on the Seine, the story has jumped far into the future--a hundred years to be exact--to an art gallery celebration. And the focus is now on a different George, the painter's great-grandson, who has his own artistic challenges to face.

The cast, last seen in long jackets, prim-and-proper dresses and parasols, has transformed themselves into a modern-day group of art lovers. While it's fun to figure out who's who from the past, it's also interesting to see how this all pans out for new George.

As the quiet closed-off artist who was better with his paints than people, Claybourne Elder makes a good Seurat, but he could be a bit stronger, especially during the first act. It's a vast change from second-act George, who definitely has that spark that lights up his face and the room. The real star here, though, is Brynn O'Malley who is simply radiant as Dot. She nails this role from the beginning with her rapid-fire rendition of "Sunday in the Park With George," but she can also show warmth as in her duets with Elder in "We Do Not Belong Together" and "Move On." And her subtle performance as the elderly Marie in "Children and Art," both inspiring and emotional.

The rest of the cast is enjoyable as the nutty characters captured in that painting. With all craziness caused by the silly, boy-crazy shop girls; the cranky boatman and his cutout dog; loud-mouthed American visitors; and bickering couples, this idyllic park setting can turn into a zoo. But when George enters the scene and quietly goes from character to character--moving a piece of hair here, adjusting an arm there or removing a little girl's glasses--it's simply mesmerizing to see the artist at work.

Throw in Frank Labovitz's exquisite costume designs and lighting by Jennifer Schriever, and Signature Theatre has marvelously put together a Sondheim treasure.

WANT TO GO?

What: "Sunday in the Park With George"

Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington

When: Through Sept. 21

Cost: $40 and up

Info: signature-theatre.org

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(c)2014 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)


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