Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sunday in The Park with George"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


"Sunday in The Park with George"

Lyrics and Music by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Staged and Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins
Scenic design by Janie E. Howland
Costume Design by Rachel Padula
Lighting Design by John Ambrosone
Production Stage Manager Dani Snyder
Assistant Stage Manager Laura Almond

Act I

George.........................Christopher Chew
Dot..............................Maryann Zschau
Old Lady.............................Beth Gotha
Nurse.............................Mary Callanan
Jules...............................Mark Morgan
Yvonne...........................Julie Jirousek
Louise..............................Heidi Gagne
A Boatman.....................Geoffrey P. Burns
Franz............................Peter A. Carey
Frieda............................Leigh Barrett
A Soldier............................Brent Reno
Mr. & Mrs. .....Marshall Munnis & Mary Callanan
Louis............................Joseph Siriani
A Woman with A Baby............Michelle Asselin
A Man with A Bicycle.................Brian Nash
Celeste #1.......................Meaghan Boeing
Celeste #2...........................Amy Soroko

Act II

George.........................Christopher Chew
Marie............................Maryann Zschau
Dennis...........................Peter A. Carey
Bob Greenberg.......................Mark Morgan
Naomi Eisen......................Julie Jirousek
Harriet Pawling...................Mary Callanan
Billy Webster....................Joseph Siriani
A Photographer.................Michelle Asselin
A Museum Assistant...................Brian Nash
Charles Redmond...............Geoffrey P. Burns
Alex.................................Brent Reno
Betty. ...........................Leigh Barrett
Lee Randolph....................Marshall Munnis
Blair Daniels........................Beth Gotha
A Waitress.......................Meaghan Boeing
Elaine...............................Amy Soroko

ORCHESTRA
conductor & Keyboards.....Jonathan Goldberg
Reeds............................Louis Toth
Reeds...........Ray Taranto/Wendy MacDonald
Horn......................Suzanne Feinstein
Violin........Peter Hughes/Riccardo Slevria
Cello.....................Catherine Stephan
Percussion.....................Peter Himmer

"Look! I made a hat
Where there never was a hat."
That is George Seurat in exhausted, isolated triumph marvelling at his day's accomplishment. For he didn't make it with a single smear of black paint but out of thousands of dots of pure reds and blues --- out of color and light. And while he is dab-dab-dibdib-dab finishing his hat, his neglected mistress sits using rouge and lipstick dab-dab-dibdib-dab fashioning a face. Yet though they are in the same studio room, there is no connection. Each needs what the other cannot give. Each must move on.

If I tell you "Sunday in The Park with George" is the most beautiful thing I have seen on the Lyric Stage you may think I exaggerate --- and I often do --- Go see for yourself. But when I say this is (up till now) the best show Spiro Veloudos has ever done --- and that Is true --- I violate the message of this play's brilliant second act for I neglect the (in Spiro's own words) "many fine Boston artists, onstage and elsewhere" who combine their talents to bring into being such perfection. Jonathan Goldberg's musical direction is so selfless here that, working entirely out of sight, his six-piece orchestra sounds like perfect accompaniment by a single, flawless pianist. Janie E. Howland's scenic design, Ilyse Robbins' movement coordination, Rachel Padula's costume choices and John Ambrosone's lights are the always unsung stuff that allows this brilliant cast to shine. Even the Lyric's Board, that approved this budget-buster of a show, had an indispensable part in its making. Piece by piece, bit by bit, they put it together.

And in that list I of course leave out the cooperation of James Lapine who wrote the book with Stephen Sondheim, the greatest lyricist the human race has produced. (I didn't say that --- it was Tom Lehrer who ought to know --- but I agree with him.)

But even the best writers and composers are nowhere without the performers who bring life to their work. And at the top of that list are Christopher Chew and Maryann Zschau, because they play the artist and model around whom the story swirls. Each works with intense concentration, but it is often the tensions between these characters that is most poignant, the silent stare of one across an unbridgeable void. More than love, she needs a husband and a father to her daughter, and so must move on to a second-best marriage. More than love, he needs the understanding his short-sighted fellow artists cannot give, and so must move on to ... other pictures. It is their yearning that makes the first act so heartbreaking.

Here Maryann Zschau plays the almost jokingly named Dot that George Seurat loves. Always nominated and never awarded, Maryann's work is always excellent and so always ignored. She is an actress who can sing, and the fact that she does not stop acting in order to sing makes her perfectly suited to embody the heavily metaphorical, complicated lyrics Sondheim gives her to work with. She is always a person on stage, reacting inwardly and outwardly to the life she is creating --- and that may be another reason her work goes unrewarded: she never stands out, the characters she plays do. This is just another brilliant performance for her, but perhaps this time Boston will recognize the gem she has been polishing all her life in theater here.

Christopher Chew spends the first act in a beard and mustache honed to jutting chisel-edge, so it is his intense artist's eyes that dominate his being. Intense yet impersonal is the judgement of his peers, yet for much of the song "The Day Off" he literally becomes a pair of dogs, snuffling happily through the grass of a Sunday. In his exchanges with Dot he personifies the passionate isolation of an artist at the edge of creativity. And in act Two, sans beard, Chew becomes a whole different person --- a modern artist trying in insincere exchanges to put together patrons, curators, foundations and critics enough to bring about a new work of art. (The song "Putting It Together" in which George replaces himself with cardboard cutouts of himself in meaningless conversations, is a perfect metaphor for how Broadway musicals are created!)

But these however excellent are only two in Spiro's fine cast --- all of whom play at least two roles, a different one in each act --- all fifteen of them giving detailed, nuanced performances in parts however brief. There are familiar faces such as Geoffrey P. Burns, Mary Callanan, Beth Gotha and Amy Soroko as well as new ones such as Joe Siriani, Marshall Munnis and Julie Jirousek --- each one ready either to take a moment or merge into the scene. Each becomes an expressive element the director plays as though they were organ pipes.

I think Boston has long taken for granted Spiro Veloudos' consummate skills not only as a theatrical director but as an artistic director. The prevailing wisdom must have been that this play --- depending as it does on a tableau recreating Seurat's painting "Sunday Afternoon on The Grande Jatte" --- had to be done in a proscenium house where the flatness of the picture plane could be preserved. Spiro, working on the Lyric's thrust-stage, has instead placed the surrounding audience inside the three-dimensional group the painter depicted. He has also unleashed the humanity in every character, making the play new.

More importantly, his production here at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston Inc. is unique. This is not a touring company one might see in a local Broadway house; it's not a transfer or co-production with Seattle Rep; it's not an arrogantly introspective reinterpretation by some European director; it's not a stock-company production with name stars that have been touring it for years. The people in "Sunday in The Park with George" are local talents doing the show for the first time, under the direction of a gifted artist who has worked in this city for twenty glorious years.

There is one other interesting detail about this show. The program proudly notes:

Boston Professional Premiere sponsored by
Goldman, Sachs & Co. and
Gerald Klauer Mattison
These are unusually, almost uniquely generous corporations here in a city that remains tragically niggardly in its treatment of theater. We should all thank them for their contributions to life in the city where they work. They are making the work of the artists "Putting It Together" possible.
Break a leg all.....

Love,
===Anon.


"Sunday in the Park With George" (14 September - 20 October)
LYRIC STAGE
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 427-7172


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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