Recently I started volunteering at Bloomington Civic Theatre (BCT) and am really enjoying it. The requirement to volunteer is to help with two shows during its run. “Sunday in the Park with George” is my sister’s favorite Sondheim show and I have been looking forward to helping out and seeing it. I’ve tried listening to some of the music but it just didn’t fully make sense to me out of context. I was looking forward to seeing it and then deciding for myself if I liked the show or not.
I was not planning on writing anything about the show but it has lingered in my memory and I continually am reflecting back on what I saw. Needless to say, it is a beautiful piece of theater. So dear readers, this blog is more for me to get out the thoughts that have been swimming around in my head more than anything. I hope you grasp the beauty of the show as I saw it. I’ll forewarn you: this will be long so hang in there if you can!
Let’s start with a brief overview of “Sunday in the Park with George”. The first act takes place just outside of Paris where Georges Seurat is painting a piece that became the impressionist masterpiece “Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. He paints his love, Dot, along with many others in the park. The second act opens with Seurat’s great-grandson George, also an artist, and his grandmother, Marie at a party held 100 years later featuring his newest creation. He needs inspiration for his art and ends up taking a trip back to the park where his great-grandfather painted.
After seeing the show I can understand why people either love or hate it. That may sound intense but it is true. Sondheim’s music and lyrics are not for the faint at heart. You cannot predict where he will go with his songs so it always keeps you on the edge of your seat. The first act seems to be a different show than the second. At first it is a little confusing but if you step back and note that the premise of the show is children and art, it makes sense. It also helps to have Sondheim’s book “Look, I Made a Hat” to understand a bit more where he is coming from.
Where to start with the songs? To best explain I have chosen to bullet point them. I had to leave some out but these are some top songs I enjoyed:
- “Sunday in the Park with George”- Dot gives a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy. It is wonderful. We learn why she is modeling in the park and she gives us an overview of the show and her relationship with George.
- “Color and Light”- George is painting in his studio. “More red, more blue, more beer, more light. Color and light There’s only color and light.” We see George’s mind turning as he paints. The lighting for this piece made the number even more magical. The song is very intense and adding the line about beer gives the audience a chance to laugh and see the reality of being an artist and working under pressure.
- “Everybody loves Louis”- Dot sings this song between her two lovers. “We lose things. And then we choose things. And there are Louis’s. And there are Georges- Well, Louis’s And George. But George has George, And I need someone.” It hurts to listen to her sing this song because you know she loves George but he is absent. She needs someone so she goes with Louis. He is a good man but he is not George.
- “Finishing the Hat”- This is a favorite for many in the theater community. Until seeing the show I didn’t fully understand it (due to it being out of context). The second show I saw I had a lone tear that seemed to trickle down my cheek the entire song. It is a beautiful piece. There is so much to say about it but instead of attempting to explain it, I would highly recommend you listen to Mandy Patinkin sing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ducG55pfCMQ
- “We Do Not Belong Together”- This is a gut wrenching piece. We all have times in our lives where someone we love does not understand where we are coming from. They make a choice to walk away and it is painful. This is that song.
- “Move On”- Yet another piece that is so wonderfully charged that I cannot put it into words. Watch the video for yourself to see the brilliance that Sondheim creates:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=vkW_VdxkzAY&NR=1
Jennifer Eckes who played Dot/Marie was phenomenal. From the moment she stepped on stage and started singing I knew she would be wonderful. I loved the way she sang her roles. It seemed effortless and she was perfect for the parts. I also enjoyed the fact that her husband (in real life, Christopher Stordalen) was her husband (in the play, Louis).
There were little things that made me smile. For example, during the beautiful company number that closed act one “Sunday”. The blended sound was lovely and when the characters started moving, Alan Sorenson who played Jules moved in a certain way with his walking cane. The movement that he chose was perfect for the time period of the piece. As small as it may seem little details truly matter.
The set and costumes were stunning. My eyes were in heaven. I loved the way the panels and backdrop of the set looked just like the painting. The costumes were picture perfect as well. It made me wish I was living in a different time period.
If you haven’t noticed, this show has impacted me in many ways. Listening to the soundtrack and writing this blog has helped me re-explore the wonderful piece of theater that James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim created. Although the show has closed at BCT I would highly recommend listening to the soundtrack and watching a version of the show in some form if possible.