Review by John Delamar
"There are worse things than staring at a river on a Sunday," chirps Dot in in the Sondheim/Lapine masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George, and she hit the nail right on the head. What's worse? You could be staring at a very none too revived revival.
Roundabout Theatre Company is known for it's innovations in the musical revival, but their most recent foray falls sadly and painfully short. The revival of Sunday in the Park with George at Studio 54 is nothing but an overtly stylized update of the original 1984 production, similar to the revival of A Chorus Line. A revival should add to a piece, make it speak to a modern audience, bring an old message to new ears, not bore the audience to tears.
Sam Buntrock has done what, if it had been technically possible in 1984, James Lapine would have done with the show. I’m talking about projections and animations that were used as opposed to the pop up cardboard cut outs in the original. It’s the addition of the projected La Grand Jatte and animated characters that are the true stunners in this production. The technical elements really don’t share the stage, but over power it. It seems as if Mr Buntrock has lifted the original Lapine staging and put it smack against his new digital backdrop. It’s much like the way the George of the second act modernizes and techno-fies the original “Sunday on La Grand Jatte”. One thing that Mr Buntrock should be commended for is his cleaning up of the messy and awkward set piece of the Chromolum #7, and thank you much for that Mr. Buntrock.
The show’s dead weight can’t all be hefted at the feet of it’s director, at least not all of it. This revivals cast, with a couple of exceptions, slept there way through what may be one of Stephen Sondheim’s most intricate and nearly perfect scores. Jenna Russell (Dot/Marie) tried to steer as clear of Bernadette Peters’ indelible performance in the original production, and I applaud her efforts. But as is the case with so many actors escaping an original performance, especially one as lively and vital as Ms Peter’s, let the character suffer in their attempts. Dot slips right through Ms. Russell’s fingers, and it is sad not just for her but for the audience as well.
If not for the performance of Ms. Russell’s counterpart, Daniel Evans (Georges/George), the bloated first act would have been torturous, and the second nearly incomprehensible. Evans finds the childish imp in Seurat and plays it beautifully while the artist works, but it’s the skill that he merges this with the aged and beaten non working Seurat that is a testament to his power as an actor. His performance enraptures and he can’t help but keep your eyes on him, watching his every gesture, every breath, every thought written on his face.
Mary Beth Peil puts in a subtlety stunning performance as the artist’s mother. It’s what Ms. Peil does with her eyes and what she doesn’t say that makes her performance so ravishing. She says more, when she says nothing at all, than most of the cast does when speaking or singing the shows book or score. Evans and Peil are splendid examples of the depth of Sunday in the Park with George, and what was not written but intended.
David Farley’s detailed costuming is extraordinary. He takes the idea of the actor’s being the people in the painting to the next logical step, by composing their costumes from fabric with flecks of color. It isn’t until half way through act one that your eye even begins to notice the detail work, but once you see the first dot, the rest just follow suit, and when the finale of the act comes it’s much more believable that the actors are the people on La Grand Jatte. Mr. Farley has found the idea of color and art and embraced it with open arms.
The few technical and performance coups notwithstanding this newest Sondheim outing by Roundabout is lack luster. If you want to see Sunday in the Park with George, my recommendation is save your money and head over to the nearest Barnes and Noble, pick up the original cast DVD, and take it home with you. You’ll be happy you went with Bernadette and Mandy, nothing personal Daniel, but Dot needs some work.