DOASKDOTELL DRAMA, MUSICAL OR PLAY REVIEWs of Sunday in the Park with George, The Light in the Piazza


Author:  James Lapine, music by Stephen Sondheim (play won 1985 Pulitzer Prize)

Title:  Sunday in the Park with George

Where seen: Minneapolis Hey Theater (2003)

Director: Steven J. Meerdink and Kevin Hansen

Performance time: 140 minutes

Cast: Christopher Zenner, Stacy Lindell, Kathleen Hardy, Robbie Mancina

Recording available: Broadway RCA RCD 154042

Relevance to HPPUB:


I got to see this free by volunteering for the theater, and at the beginning it seemed like a meandering lighthearted operetta, until it gained psychological momentum after about 45 minutes and it became clear that the story would be bifurcated by Georges affair with mistress Dot.

The first half of the musical, taking place in 1884, shows Georges Seurat as a self-indulgent artist, however impressive his massive painting of a Sunday afternoon in a park on the Seine. Minor characters seem disoriented, as a couple that suddenly wants to go back to America after just arriving in Paris (like I once had to return from a vacation trip because of anticipated work production problems – it happened just once).  Dot does not really hold him fully accountable for his seeding her with child.

 “You are complete, George. You are your own. We do not belong together. You are complete, George. You are alone. I am unfinished. I am diminished. With or without you.”

That would make more sense if Georges kept his relationship platonic and needed no one. But a century later, the great grandson, another Georges, struggles with his own high-tech muse, and that leads him back to Paris and the Park to contemplate his ancestor and perhaps encounter him. But the newer Georges (both Georges played by Christopher Zenner) seems to be a much better person than the painter.

There are random funny lines (“I want my glasses”) in some of the songs.

But it seems like a no-brainer that this musical lends itself to art film, and could get investor money in anticipation of a large public audience. Maybe it is too artsy as a musical, because a screenwriter will want to play the two parts of the story against one another in a counterpoint. Maybe the problem is that the best lines don’t quite work in the full moral context of the story. But is anyone fair game for this project?  Miramax and Studio Canal, where are you?

The Light in the Piazza (1962, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer (1960), book by Craig Lucas, directed by Bartlett Sher) was broadcast by PBS from the Lincoln Center (the Vivian Beaumont Theater), New York, on June 15, 2006. A middle aged woman, Margaret Johnson traveling in Italy with her daughter Clara (Katie Clark, right after college graduation!) is concerned when a chance meeting with a Florentine Fabrizio (Aaron Lazar) leads to Romance. The stage is deep with walls and columns at angles, and the music lilts. There is a lot of period-like dialogue about the mores of the time, as with a line about “Baptists” and about “the American cinema.”  As the musical progresses, we learn more about the problems. The mother thinks that her daughter is mentally incapacitated and vulnerable from a horseriding accident (this theme has gone from “Gone with the Wind” to Christopher Reeves’s tragedy), and the mother’s own marriage seems to have a “Tennessee Williams” problem. But just before the Intermission, the young lovers encounter in a bedroom, and she proceeds to remove his shirt and explore his torso, a risqué concept for 1962, perhaps.  In the second half, the language issue is explored (which rings a bit hollow with an easy Romance language) as is the Catholic church, and is Italy itself. The father wants to stop any marriage and has the power to do so in their society; the issue that Clara is older than Fabrizio comes up. As so often, we find ourselves rooting for a wedding that is socially questionable according to the norms of another world. As acted, Clara does not seem "disabled" so the playing on the audience's sympathy for her lover's family to accept her despite her being "different" rings a bit hollow. This is highly stylized entertainment, a modern presentation of what was high musical theater two generations ago.   


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