Sunday in the Park with George spectacularly staged by San Francisco Playhouse

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George take their positions in Georges Seurat’s famous painting. Photos by Jessica Palopoli

Sunday in the Park with George: Musical. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Bill English. San Francisco Playhouse, 490 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel), San Francisco. (415) 677-9596. www.sfplayhouse.org

Sunday in the Park with George spectacularly staged by San Francisco Playhouse

Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

In previous reviews it has been suggested that plays at the San Francisco Playhouse are sometimes overshadowed by their impressive production values. In Sunday in the Park with George the final production of their 2017-2018 season the superb staging has met its match by Sondheim’s brilliant score and James Lapine’s book. It also helps that they have assembled a cast worthy of the material.

The creative inspiration for this musical is the George Seurat’s famous painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”  Seurat was a visionary with technical instincts noting that color was not simple shades of red, green or blue but rather a combination of colors juxtaposed in dots (pointillism) creating what nature has intended the eye to see. However, using this technique is tedious and time consuming thus he was only able to create a limited number of paintings in his short 31 years of life.

The play is in two acts 100 years apart (1884 and 1984). In the opening scene (1884) George Seurat (John Bambery) is sitting on the stage apron, working in his sketchbook contemplating the construction of what will be his piece de resistance. The back drop is entirely white:  “White, a blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole, through design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony.” As he sketches and speaks the stage becomes filled with trees, boats in the water, grass and the characters that will appear in the painting. He is creating a visual world that only he controls and is oblivious to friend and critic Jules (Ryan Drummond) noting the absence of brush strokes.

Woven into the fictional story is the love affair with his mistress/model Dot (Nanci Zoppi) who becomes secondary to the creative instinct of George the artist. He lives in the world of his painting and Sondheim/Lapine emphasize that very specifically with “Finishing the Hat” as the words are accompanied by the beautiful projection of the hat taking shape point by point. In Dot’s mundane world interpersonal relationships take precedence with “Everybody Loves Louis.”  Before act one ends the dichotomy is complete with “We Do Not Belong Together” and the very pregnant Dot goes off to America with Louis.

Although the first act tends to go on too long you will be fascinated by persons in the painting coming to life both in animation and interaction with each other and George. There is no doubt that he lives in his painting and Bill English’s brilliant direction will keep your attention riveted to the stage as each character steps out of the painting.

In Act two it is 1984 and George’s great-grandson, also named George, has inherited the love of art for art’s sake and has created a technical form of art using a light machine called “Chromolume #7.” While presenting his work he has brought along his 98 year old grandmother (Nanci Zoppi) who with the present day Marie confirms the genetic tie to the original George who fathered the original Marie with Dot bringing up the song “Children and Art”.

Act two with its fast pacing injected with humor removes any tedium that may have seeped into the audience before intermission but never losing sight of the art being an all-enveloping task master.  It all ends as it had begun with a white palate: “White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities.”  George reads aloud the character names from the painting. They fill the stage and recreate their tableau (“Sunday”).

The cast is virtually a who’s who of Bay Area theatre with the ancillary actors earning individual accolades supporting John Bambery and Nanci Zoppi’s near perfect rendition of Sondheim’s difficult lyrics and music.

Bill English’s spot on direction is enhanced by the creative crew and Dave Dobrusky’s six piece orchestra. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission earning a solid “should see” rating.

CAST: Starring John Bambery as George and Nanci Zoppi as Dot and features Michelle Drexler, Ryan Drummond, Corrie Farbstein, Samuel Faustine, Ayelet Firstenberg, William Giammona, Abby Haug, Gwen Herndon, Charlotte Ying Levy, Maureen McVerry, Emily Radosevich, Xander Ritchey, and Anthony Rollins-Mullens.

CREATIVE CREW: Director, Bill English; Choreographer, Kimberly Richards; Music Director, Dave Dobrusky; Scenic Designer, Bill English; Costume Designer, Abra Berman; Lighting Designer, Michael Oesch; Sound & Projections Designer, Theodore J.H. Huisker; Stage Manager, Sarah Selig;  Properties Artisan, Jacquelyn Scott.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George take their positions in Georges Seurat’s famous painting.

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