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Interview: Broadway's Max Chernin on 'SUNDAY IN THE PARK' and Keeping Art Alive

Broadway's Max Chernin made his debut last spring in the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical, Bright Star, and is currently starring in the revival of Sondheim and Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George - a beautiful living portrait illustrating the complexity of art, love, and human relationships. The talented young actor joins a top-notch cast, headlined by Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, and plays a soldier who doesn't speak, but is keenly aware of the world around him.

BroadwayWorld had the chance to speak with Chernin during the production's final days and learned more about his career experiences; the music and lessons of Sunday in the Park with George; and the importance of keeping art alive in this technological age.

First things first, what is your favorite Sondheim show? What stands out most to you about this legend's work and influence?

Hard to name a favorite, but I think Merrily We Roll Along stands out the most. I think what stands out to me is how curated his work is. He serves the plot and the character instead of the performer. Sometimes writing can become about how high the note is, or how impressive the styling can be, but Sondheim lets the drama and story take you to those moments. It all feels natural.

What has the journey been like from the time you made your debut in the original production [Bright Star] to now in one of the most popular revivals?

They have been very different processes! I had worked on Bright Star since its early days in San Diego -- where we went through a whirlwind of changes both in the text and in the staging. I then went through that process two more times, in DC, and finally on Broadway! It was nice to have most of that set in stone for Sunday in the Park with George. We could focus right away on fine-tuning the details.

Can you talk a little bit about the music of the show and what you find most inspiring?

I am most inspired by Michael Starobin's orchestrations. It's incredible to be on stage and hear it so beautifully played each night. There are sweeping moments that allow emotions to wash over you, and there are bright percussive moments that mirror the action on stage. Lyrically, different moments get to me on different days. Poetically I love "Pretty isn't beautiful...pretty is what changes, what the eye arranges is what is beautiful." I think that speaks for itself.

Your character, one of the soldiers, doesn't speak but observes much of what is going on in the world around him. What is that experience like, being part of this living portrait essentially?

I love it. I've learned so much more about how to communicate than I ever thought I would. The hardest part is keeping a straight face with all these amazing comedic moments around me.

How has being part of this special cast impacted your growth and career as an actor?

I certainly feel honored to be included in this group. I always find I learn from observing, and listening, and this cast is just sensational.

Can you talk about how the venue, the new Hudson Theatre, makes the whole aesthetic even more pleasing?

It's an amazing space. I'm so happy this theatre is here in NYC. It's designed to feel intimate and I think this show, and many other shows need that feel to stay close to the audience. I think this show would drown in a big house. I think the Hudson staff has really made everyone who sees the show feel like they are really having a special experience.

Many of the themes of the show deal with relevant topics related to relationships and career. Is there a certain lesson or message that sticks out most to you about life in general?

Oh boy! Yeah, it has a way of getting to you at your most vulnerable moments. "Stop worrying if your vision is new. Let others make that decision, they usually do. You keep moving on."

In this age of technology, why do you think exposure to the arts is so crucial?

You can't get it on Netflix or Instagram. You have to turn it all off to experience art (at least I think so.) I wish more efforts were made to make certain experiences less exclusive and more accessible to everyone, but if you look hard enough you can find them.

Sunday in the Park with George runs through Sunday, April 23rd at the Hudson Theatre.

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