THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE Turns 30
One of the most innovative and unusual musicals in Broadway history, May 2 marks the 30th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's seminal SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and we honor it today by celebrating its myriad charms.
Finishing The Hat
"White. A blank page or canvas," begins the iconic opening moments of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, a two-act musical musing on the life of pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his artistic legacy. Perhaps no other Broadway musical before or since has so brazenly and brilliantly evoked the artist's dilemma and so eloquently expressed the artist's plight as Sondheim and Lapine's work in this show amply exhibits. From the ingenuous use of a pointillism-inspired score throughout the proceedings, to the visually arresting overall design and anomalous staging of the original production, to say nothing of the cast of note-perfect actors in each and every one of the roles, the original SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE on Broadway was a modern marvel then, and, now, more than 30 years later, remains just as vital, alive and important.
Sondheim's score alone is packed with many treasures, first and foremost the unforgettable "Sunday" finale that ends both acts, which somehow both musically and lyrically sums up the creation of a work of art - and its effect - and capsulizes it into a single song. A mere single sentence, as well, no less - as was Sondheim's intention with the structure of the evocative and vivid lyrics set to the gently building melody. So, too, was the idea of setting the second act one hundred years after the first a stroke of certain genius - bringing the themes of the piece firmly into the then-present day, the plight of the central artistic figure of the act, Georges's American great-grandson George, could be seen dealing with many of the same issues as his great-grandfather had done in the first act, set way back in Paris-set 1884.
Furthermore, musical moments like "Finishing The Hat" sum up not only the oft-hidden feelings and labyrinthe emotions of a painter, but of all artists dealing with the choice of whether to commit themselves fully to their art, fully to life or somehow find a happy medium between the two. Does that even exist? So goes the moral of the musical moment - and the central question of much of the drama.
Then, there is "Move On". Has Sondheim written a more rapturous melody, before or since? And, those aching, rich and philosophical lyrics! Certainly, as originally enacted by Broadway headliners Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, a more powerful and soul-searing sequence would be difficult to envision, let alone actually find - now or ever; on Broadway or anywhere else.
As the line so perfectly presents, "Work is what you do for others, art is what you do for yourself," and that is what SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is really about. Art, love, life - and how intimately they all are linked for all of us, but especially the artists among us.
So, now, take a look at Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters and company performing SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE in full as originally seen in its Broadway premiere way back in 1984.
As a special bonus, watch the dynamic duo recreate "Move On" at the SONDHEIM! THE BIRTHDAY CONCERT 80th birthday celebration a few years ago.
So, what exactly is it about SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE that makes it such a timeless and invaluable musical for any age? Is it the idiosyncratic style and sound of the show? Is it the incomparable Sondheim score? Or, is it the provocatively presented idea at the core making it so easy for us all to relate to the artist's plight? Whatever it is for you personally, we all can agree that Broadway has never been the same since Sondheim and Lapine taught us how to see not only art and artists a little differently, but musical theatre, too.