San Francisco Theater Preview: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (SF Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on July 5, 2018

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Rare is the opportunity to witness a production of a Stephen Sondheim musical, let alone an illustrious production of this revered composer/lyricist. His 1984 Sunday in the Park with George, with book by James Lapine, grows in profundity as it ages, and in the right hands can be transformational. Thus, a trip to San Francisco Playhouse, where the musical plays beginning tonight and running through September 6, is a must-see event.

The musical fable is based on the short life of pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his magnum opus A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte; the flawless self-contained first act is the imagined creation of the monumental 1884 work (which resides at the Art Institute of Chicago), and the second act concerns the painter’s great-grandson almost a century later. Director Bill English always centers on the humanity of the characters, forever guiding his casts into realms of authenticity rarely seen in musicals; this genuineness will be necessary to highlight the universal truths in Sondheim’s lyrics. This show grabs a hold of the audience’s communal heart and quietly pulls it forward toward its magnificent perspectives on life and art.

Seurat is a man who keeps his life under control via sketch pad and canvas; whether furiously sketching the island’s varied denizens, or tapping away on the giant canvas in his studio, his obsessive desire to complete his work (a fanatisicm he refers to as “Finishing the Hat”) only serves to keep him disconnected from other, more meaningful relationships, especially with both his lover, Dot, and his mother. Sung by Dot, “We Do Not Belong Together” is the most elegantly painful break-up song in Broadway history, and “Beautiful” is a wistful, aching paean to memory. And “Move On” is a simple reminder to any audience member who forgets that it’s not so much that you do what you like as it is that you like what you do. All it takes is one transformative night in the theater to make one believe in art, family, creativity, invention, and moving on. You may just want to be a better person yourself after seeing Sunday.

photos by Ken Levin

Sunday in the Park with George
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St. in Union Square
ends on September 8, 2018
for tickets, call 415-677-9596 or visit SF Playhouse

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