Sunday in the Park with George is a Broadway musical inspired by the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte by French painter Georges Seurat, the father of the late-nineteeth century pointillist movement. Sunday In The Park With George marks the first collaboration between composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer James Lapine, who directed the original production on Broadway in 1984.
Sunday in the Park with George, like many other Sondheim shows, is very technical and of high musical standard, making it a challenge for any company to produce. UMMTA’s take on the Pulitzer Prize winning piece was interesting in its design and direction, and offered the chance to Australian audience to see a piece of theatre not often produced.
The set and projection design, by Thomas Fellowes, was simple but effective. The entire stage looked like a giant canvas, and the clever use of projections added another layer to the atmosphere and mood of the show. The lighting design, by Blake Condon, relied heavily on side lighting, and was at times breathtaking, projecting the various actors’ shadows on the canvas. However, the lack of front lighting and followspot made it hard to follow the action, especially in larger ensemble numbers such as The Day Off and Putting It Together.
Costume design by Tuan Pham was outstanding: the numerous dresses designed for the female cast were stunning, and Dot’s costumes were especially beautiful.
The biggest downfall of this production was the excruciatingly long scene transitions. The stage was at times left in the dark for over 30 seconds, while an army of stage hands and actors were loudly changing sets. I know that opening night is often the first time the show is performed in its entirety, and I’m sure scene changes will get faster over time.
The cast of UMMTA’s Sunday in the Park with George was strong, and there was no weak link. Ryan Bentley as George (1884) was convincing, and offered a great vocal performance. While he had great physicality, his performance was a little too static: I wished he had used the space around him a little more. Hailing straight from the UK, Olivia Gould portrayed Dot, George’s love interest. She was phenomenal, had great comedic timing, and her performance in number such as We Do Not Belong Together and Move On were outstanding. Unfortunately, both Bentley and Gould’s elocution needed some work, as most songs were hard to understand. Clear diction is extremely important in Sondheim’s musicals, and sadly a lot of important information were lost in the dialogues and musical numbers. Dan Czech as George (1984) was genuine and touching. Props to him for making it through Putting It Together, a chaotic and clearly under-rehearsed number in the second act.
While the leads offered beautiful performances, the supporting characters stole the show. Refaela Cleeve Gerkens in the role of Old Lady was one of the highlights of the show. Not only was she hilarious in her interactions with the nurse (Mel O’Brien), her performance in Beautiful was genuinely moving and nearly brought tears to my eyes. Other highlights included Selena Nicastri and Claire Warrillow as the Celestes, two sassy French ladies. They bounced off of one another, and sounded sublime. Asher Harrington’s performance as Marie was also simply stunning.
UMMTA’s Sunday in the Park with George’s sensational and talented cast offers some great moments, and any fans of Sondheim should go and see this rarely produced show.
UMMTA’s Sunday in the Park with George runs from May 5th-13th at the Union House Theatre