Chicago Theatre Review
Sunday in the Park with Shakespeare Theater
Sunday in the Park with George
By Colin Douglas
“Art isn’t easy.” This deceptively simple statement of the obvious is the single lyric from Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine’s multi award-winning score that crystalizes the essence of their 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning musical. For those unfamiliar with the piece, the musical fictionalizes the life of French Pointillist Georges Seurat, and was inspired by the artist’s towering masterpiece, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Indeed, the musical, which focuses primarily on Seurat’s greatest creation, also examines the painter’s isolated, singleminded dedication to his art as well as its effect on those around him.
This musical sparkles with color, comedy and compassion speaking to audiences through very recognizable images and situations. Sondheim reduces the nature of creativity to its basic elements finding parallels between art and ardor. Prolific CST director Gary Griffin, who’s become Chicago’s go-to director for Sondheim’s musicals, follows his last year’s triumph, “Follies” (and a previous production of this very musical) with an emotional interpretation of this often controversial piece. Like Sondheim’s fairy tale-based “Into the Woods,” audiences sometimes view the musical’s two acts as separate plays. But, especially i
n the way Griffin has crafted this very personal production, collaborating with talented scenic artist Kevin Depinet, projection and lighting designers Mike Tutaj and Philip S. Rosenberg and costumer Mara Blumenfeld, the story of Seurat’s 1884 creation smoothly melds into Act II’s tale of a modern-day artist facing the same problems as his Great-Grandfather. The result is a well-balanced production in which the acts complement each other.
And Griffin’s company of actors are all top notch talents. Broadway’s Jason Danieley (“Curtains,” “The Full Monty”) plays both Georges with passion and sensitivity caressing each note and lyric with his beautifully rich baritone voice. Carmen Cusack (“Carrie,” “South Pacific”) is equally captivating as Dot, Georges’ spunky mistress, and Marie, George’s wise grandmother, singing with such clarity and range that audiences will forget anyone else in this role. A talented ensemble that includes Linda Stephens, Ora Jones, Heidi Kettenring, McKinley Carter, Sean Fortunato, Kevin Gudahl, Travis Taylor and many others, accompanied by Brad Haak’s lush, 11-member orchestra, propel this production to the top of Chicago’s must-see list for this Fall.
Runs through November 4
Chicago Shakespeare Theater 800 E. Grand Avenue
Tickets – 312-595-5600