BWW Reviews: Talent Galore in Short North Stage's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

It was something of a perfect storm of talent that occurred inside the Short North Stage last night. Sarna Lapine, the niece of Tony-Award winning author/director James Lapine, is directing the Columbus premier of the Sondheim musical for which her uncle penned the book. She has combined forces with the 2013 Tony Award winning sound designer, Leon Rothenberg, Broadway veteran Laura Griffith (Dot), and local musical tour de force, Matt Clemens (George) to create a show that has so many "points of light" its artistic merit is brilliant as its Chromolume counterpart.

Assuming roles previously held by Broadway icons, Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin is no small undertaking, but Clemens and Griffith do so with gusto. Laura Griffith is a visual match, but more impressively, her vocal chops due her predecessor justice as well, even with Sondheim's notoriously tongue-twisting lyrics. Clemens, who has performed locally with several theater companies, truly shines in the role of misunderstood postimpressionist painter, George Seurat, bringing a sensitivity and desperate isolation to his character that allows beautiful depth. While they both have stellar vocals skills, their harmonies on the classic, 'Move On' with take your breath away, thanks also, in part to gorgeous sound execution in an acoustically tough space.

Other notables include Linda Dorff as Seurat's aging mother, and her caretaker, played by Krista Stauffer. Both create memorable and endearing characters that are well-defined without being oppressive. Costumes by Terese Wadden are gorgeous representations of those seen in Seurat's famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte", (the likes of which our local topiary garden in the School for the Deaf's park is modeled after as well), while the set design by Mikiko Suzuki and Mac Adams is nothing short of a miniature art museum in and of itself. The full stage recreation of Seurat's famous work is literally brought to life before the audience's eyes in painstakingly created detail. Set pieces that transform from Seurat's studio, back and forth to the island, are divine, but lead to my only disappointment of the evening- irritatingly slow set transitions that seriously detracted from the pace of an already slower-moving show. In a musical that is rather somber, highly intellectual, and without any dance numbers to pick up the energy, the briskness of transitions between scenes is key.

Otherwise, the ensemble creates a visual masterpiece, especially on the Act 1 finale, "Sunday", as well as delivering beautiful song renditions. The orchestra and sound design work wonderfully well to embrace the nuances of the score with delicate precision. Two years since its birth, the Short North Stage has truly hit its stride, and this show is an official proclamation of that. If this is the "state of the art" at the Short North Stage, the rest of its 2013-14 season will be a continuation of "Broadway caliber in your Backyard" that is single-handedly revitalizing the Short North theater scene.

Don't miss your chance to see the Short North Stage present, "Sunday In the Park with George", running October 10-13, 18, 20, 24-27 at 8pm on Thurs/Fri/Sat and 3pm on Sun, presented at 1187 North High Street. Please go to: http://www.shortnorthstage.org/ for additional ticketing details.

PHOTO CREDIT: Megan Leigh




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