BWW Review: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at Theatre Works
Theater Works' SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is a spectacular achievement, and if you love theatre and musicals, it is highly recommended.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks.
This critic must fully disclose that she has never been a devoted fan of either Mandy Patinkin or Bernadette Peters. I know. Blasphemy. While I do love to watch Patinkin on the screen and appreciate his dramatic work on stage, his light, breathy tenor has always irritated me. I can feel you throwing things at the screen. I feel you. I do apologize. However, there's no accounting for taste, right? Peters, Broadway's darling for these many decades, has simply never inspired me. Without exception, I feel her commenting on her characters, rather than playing them.
For those of you still with us, I shall press on.
I saw the production in New York, when a friend of mine was in it with the original cast. When we young theatre geeks went out for bites and beers after, we tore the piece apart with the arrogant smugness only theatre initiates will appreciate. The spectacle annoyed me. I felt the "production values" overwhelmed the story, as big theatre is inclined to do. At intermission, it's all our fellow patrons talked about, and I went outside to smoke (as I was inclined to do, in those days).
Hello, Peoria Arizona, 2017.
Theatre Works has produced an exquisite Sunday with splendid effects that lift up and complement the performances of its exceptional leads - as production values should and must do. It is an homage to its Neo-Impressionist inspiration/namesake. The outstanding orchestra, led by TW resident musical director Steve Hilderbrand, provides an unshakable foundation that manifests Sondheim's often pointillist score with virtuosic grace.
Alanna Kalbfleisch is an utter delight to see and hear, with luminous skin, bright eyes and dimples in both cheeks and chin. Let's face it. She's eye candy. As Dot/Marie, the comfortable authority with which Kalbfleisch moves about the stage suggests a lifetime of performance. Her voice is off-the-charts resplendent, however she is by no means all flash. The nuances in her performance are breathtaking - her pure talent and spectacular range, vocal and dramatic, are world class.
As George, Joshua Vern is earnest and focused and excellent. His acting is as solid as his voice is warm and strong. His moments in harmony with Kalbfleisch - especially Sondheim's signature use of dissonant chords - gave me full-body chills. The crescendo, near production's end, brought me to tears. Vern's George of the first act is as aloof as his second act George engaged. It's a beautiful portrait.
Debra M Qualtire is a stand out in the ensemble, especially in her second act depiction of Naomi Eisen, a collaborating artist with a neo-beat visage. I liked her clever manifestation of the character, actually, much more than Dana Ivey's in the original. Qualtire also has a great voice.
As George's mother in the first act, Christy Welty is a powerless, dotty old woman (my least favorite stereotype!), though her duet with Vern's George is exquisite and when she sings, she rises above the confines of the character. In Act II, she is solid and funny as Blair Daniels, an art critic.
Under the masterful direction of Phillip Fazio and musical direction of Steve Hilderbrand, the ensemble delivers the requisite context and atmosphere for the story. All are talented and skilled performers.
More disclosure - this critic thought she was going to see an Equity show featuring performers paid living wages and benefits, with full-time rehearsal schedules. She was mistaken. The marvelous performers mostly work day jobs and rehearse in the evenings and on weekends. Nothing humbles this stuck up critic more than the commitment and mastery of those who pursue artistic impulse for the love - and the need - of it.
Sunday in the Park with George continues through Sunday, March 5. Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 W. Peoria Ave. $14-$36. 623-815-7930, theaterworks.org.