Saturday, 18 February 2017

Jake Gynnelhaal in Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

     I don't know why I didn't comment back in October on the brilliant City Center Encores presentation of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. It was one of those very special theatrical events--a starry cast doing their best in a simple but effective staging of a great musical backed by a superb orchestra. Jake Gyllenhaal surprised everyone with the quality of his singing. Intense, sensitive, anti-social genius Georges Seurat seemed the perfect part for him. Annaleigh Ashford made Dot her own. Phylicia Rashad made Georges' mother a powerful presence. Small parts were filled by the likes of Zachary Levi and Ruthie Ann Miles. It was a great night.
     The production has now moved into the renovated Hudson Theatre and, despite some major cast changes, it is a great revival. Gyllenhaal and Ashford are still superb. Penny Fuller has replaced Rashad and makes the part her own. "Changing"--one of my favorite songs in the show--was one of the evening's high points. Robert Sean Leonard has replaced Zachary Levi as Georges' artistic rival. Levi was too much "handsome leading man" for the role. Leonard gives it more substance. The rest of the ensemble is as excellent as it was at the City Center and the orchestra (visible behind a scrim) is up to City Center standards. Chris Fenwick again conducts.
     The production is done on a bare platform with some props and projections. The show is so strong that it really doesn't need anything more. Sarna Lapine and Ann See (credited with musical staging) have used the space and performers effectively. Whoever designed the spectacular "Chromolume #7 that Georges' grandson creates in the second act deserves his or her own standing ovation.
     Of course, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is a show that should be seen by anyone interested in musical theatre. It's a twentieth century classic with a great score and brilliant lyrics. It's not easy for folks who only know Disney shows ("Art isn't easy" as Georges sings). You have to listen carefully but the rewards are great. It is also one of the best works about the making (and selling) of art.
     Speaking of the selling of art, the refurbished Hudson Theatre looks great. It has sat idle for too long. However, it is being run by the Ambassador Theatre Group, who seem to think of their properties as bars with theatres. Big bars, tiny bathrooms. Audience members are allowed to being glassware to their seats--not a good idea, particularly for the folks who have to clean the theatres. Most egregious is the muzak piped into the public spaces before the show begins and at intermission. I noticed this when I went to see ON THE TOWN at the Lyric (also an Ambassador house) a while back. When one goes to see a musical, one shouldn't be bombarded with other music everywhere else in the theatre. It isn't a supermarket. The jazz being piped in at SUNDAY AT THE PARK WITH GEORGE distracted from the experience of hearing a Sondheim score as the Christmas tunes distracted from the Bernstein score. Silence is golden before a show.

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