As a self-confessed art philistine, I look Georges Seurat’s nineteenth century pointillist painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and see only a group prim and proper Victorians relaxing in a park on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, however, saw in it the potential for the musical Sunday the Park with George, turning the figures of the painting into vivacious and engaging characters. As soon as I heard the word musical’ I seriously considered not turning up to the preview, convinced that I wouldn’t able to fight the urge to giggle whenever the actors broke out song. But to my surprise, within few seconds Sunday In the Park with George managed to convert me into a fully-fledged musical addict. The play focuses upon the relationship between the title character and his mistress, Dot. George, a brilliant if self absorbed painter, might possess the artistic vision to transform a group of hooligans into a band of angels with a single sweep of his brush. Yet by an ironic twist of fate he is blind to the world around him, losing Dot, who is expecting his child, to a pastry maker. With masterful choreography, the entire cast join together in the central episode to recreate their positions in the painting and reveal the angst behind Seurat’s image of Victorian bliss. Doomed to relive this never-ending summer’s day, spending a Sunday in the park with George becomes an existential nightmare for the figures in the picture. This metaphor resonates throughout the entire play, harrowingly symbolic of Dot and George’s feelings of stultification.Sondheim’s material is top notch but the actors also deserve some credit for the play’s success. Thomas Eyre- Maunsell delivers a fine performance as George, but it is Chantelle Staynings who is the real star of the show, her childlike pouting encapsulating Dot’s desperate attempt to capture her lover’s attention. The trip to the theatre would be made worthwhile if only to hear her impressive vocal range during Dot’s mesmerising solo. So if you’re like me and the word ‘musical’ makes you want to run a mile, my advice is to give Sunday in the Park with George chance. It might just change your mind, pushing the boundaries of the musical to new limits. With its darkly comic undertones, the experience resembles The Picture of Dorian Gray more than any performance of Annie or the shockingly awful Moulin Rouge. The keen psychological insight demonstrated in this play proves that musical theatre is capable of engaging the intellect of its audience, while also making them smile. Perhaps the most impressive proof of this production’s lingering impact is that I walked home grinning, as its unforgettable lyrics flowed in and out of my head.
ARCHIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003

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