Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George

Art Isn't Easy

Through Feb. 12, 2017
Carnival Studio Theater, Arsht Center For the Performing
website

With a practically bare, white playing space as a blank
canvas, Zoetic Stage’s Stuart Meltzer, his cast and crew have fashioned
a gorgeous work of art in the award-winning Miami company’s current
production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s masterpiece
“Sunday in the Park with George.”

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical, which also won the Olivier Award
for Best Musical, is playing the Carnival Studio Theater, located in
Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center through Feb. 12.

This production, the South Florida premiere of the musical, combines
striking stage pictures, stark lighting by Rebecca Montero, eye-
catching video projections by Greg Duffy and top-notch singing voices
from a talented cast of veterans and younger thespians who nail
Sondheim’s complex music. They are accompanied by a vibrant, live
orchestra.

Individually, cast members’ have rangy, expressive voices. But like the
painting technique at the center of the musical, the individual voices
beautifully coalesce, especially to sing the show’s best
song, the stately “Sunday.”

On several Sundays during the late 1800s, French painter Georges
Seurat gathers at a park on an island in the Seine river to prepare his
notable painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La
Grande Jatte.” Sound effects of chirping birds, created by sound
designer Dan Mayer, reinforce the serene atmosphere.

Seurat created the work, considered his most famous, in the form of a
painting technique called Pointillism. It involves small, separate dots of
color applied in patterns to form an image.

The image mostly comprises members of the French bourgeoisie
relaxing on lazy, sunny Sundays on the island.

In the show, the painting’s subjects spring to life, commenting on
various subjects, including Seurat’s endless concentration
while he works to paint likenesses of the people
Director Meltzer’s smart staging includes ensuring a separation exists
on-stage between the aloof Seurat (Cooper Grodin) and the rest of the
characters.

With his dark hair, beard, black costume, lowered eyebrows and sharp,
bossy voice, Grodin projects a brooding, even dictatorial air. He’s
commanding toward those he is painting, particularly his love interest,
Dot (Kimberly Doreen Burns). It’s clear his Seurat is deeply
committed to “Finishing the Hat.”

Grodin projects a dark and serious aura without making his character
unlikable. Like his painting, his performance is multi-colored, with
injections of charm and playfulness.

As Dot, Kimberly Doreen Burns invests her character with impatience
and exasperation at Seurat’s demands and neglect of her. But Burns
also communicates her character’s devotion to Seurat, at one point
seductively touching his body from the top to the bottom, as though
he’s a work of art himself.

The first act takes place in 1884, while the second fast forwards to a
museum in 1984 New York City.
In the latter, Georges’ great-grandson, named George, is a struggling
painter trying to preserve his ancestor’s painting. With him is Georges’
and Dot’s now-elderly daughter, Marie (also played by Burns, who
looks too young and acts too vibrant in the role).
The importance of art as a family legacy and the challenge of
producing art are among the timeless themes in Act II.
George is played by Grodin with a strong sense of commitment and a
sense he’s burdened by the hard task of producing art. Grodin makes it
clear there’s a weight on this man’s shoulders to preserve his great-
grandfather’s legacy.

“Art isn’t easy,” are lyrics that are repeated in the song “Putting it
Together.” It’s sung by Multiple characters, including George. The song,
like others in the musical, showcases Sondheim’s brilliant rhymes and
elegant lyrics.

Perhaps the lyrics that really draw us into the musical are the following:
“White. A blank page of canvas…So many possibilities.”
In Zoetic’s production, George sings the lyrics “So many possibilities,”
in a whisper, but with an ardent enthusiasm suggesting a treasure
chest’s worth of tempting choices.
Maybe art’s infinite possibilities make it so tempting to try to create.

Aaron Krause has been a journalist for about 15 years and has reviewed theater for about 13 of those. He's a life-long theater aficionado and reviews for his blog, www.krausesconstructivecriticism.com and for www.berkshirefinearts.com. He lives in Coral Springs, Fla. and is a freelance critic/writer.