Sunday in the Park with George, onstage now at Burning Coal Theatre and directed by Jerome Davis, is a quirky little musical, one inspired by Seurat’s famed painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In his script, author James Lapine imagines what Seurat’s life must have been like and who each person in his painting was and what each person meant to him while Stephen Sondheim brings these themes to life with his colorful musical numbers.
The script is a little complex with the characters being both real people, as well as people who realize they are a part of the painting. This quality, as well as the play’s abstract nature, makes it somewhat hard to follow at times, but the richness of the script and its commentary on the interesting and inextricable connection drawn between art and life partially makes up for that.
The play’s first act deals with George (Tyler Graeper) as a young artist, one who is so dedicated to his craft that he forsakes real emotional connections, especially the one that he could have with Dot (Natalie Reder), the woman who will eventually go on to bear his child. Playful songs and ponderings dominate the first act while the second act, which focuses on the 1980s art scene and George’s descendants, is darker and more thoughtful. In the second act, Graeper plays the artist’s troubled great grandson, facing many of the same challenges and struggles as his predecessor, and Reder plays an aged but spunky Marie, the child born to George and Dot so long ago.
While Graeper loses some of his steam by the time the second act rolls around, Reder is fabulous here. In her two wildly different roles, she is believable and fun to watch. And the rest of the cast, most of whom serve mainly as depictions from the painting, do their jobs well throughout, helped along greatly by Bonnie Raddatz’ perfect and perfectly accurate costume-design.
The show may be a little too abstract to be thoroughly enjoyable for modern audiences, but its themes and explorations are timeless. It must be noted that the play won several awards in its time, but in many ways, it now seems to, at least in part, possess that faux-artsy quality, dominant in the 80s, that it so deliberately mocks in its second half. Despite that, Davis continually outdoes himself with his poignant staging and does a fine job of bringing this imperfectly-aged but very intriguing show- one that is not often seen these days- to life.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at 7:30 p.m. April 16-18, 2 p.m. April 19, 7:30 p.m. April 23-25, 2 p.m. April 26, 7:30 p.m. April 30-May 2, and 2 p.m. May 3 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near Historic Oakwood.
TICKETS: $25 ($20 seniors 65+ and $15 students and active-duty military personnel), except all tickets are $15 on Thursdays, tickets are $15 per person for groups of 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush tickets will be sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students with valid ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/. SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/sunday-in-the-park-with-george/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/904720722912742/.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Long Street Media): https://vimeo.com/123139413.
STUDY GUIDE: http://burningcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/Sunday-in-the-Park-with-George-Study-Guide1.pdf.
2015 MAIN-STAGE SHOWS: http://burningcoal.org/mainstage/.
PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
Sunday in the Park with George (1984 Broadway and 1990 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000072 (Music Theatre International), http://www.sondheimguide.com/sunday.html (The Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=8418 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_in_the_Park_with_George (Wikipedia).
Stephen Sondheim (New York City-born composer and lyricist, born 1930): http://sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.sondheimguide.com/ (The Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12430 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
James Lapine (Mansfield, OH-born playwright and director, born 1949): http://www.jameslapine.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6607 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lapine (Wikipedia).
Jerome Davis (Burning Coal’s founding artistic director): http://burningcoal.org/jerome-davis/ (Burning Coal bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jerome.davis.5686 (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.