Sublime Sunday- Sunday In The Park With George review

Many new musicals fail to engage the audience as the one thing they sometimes lack is heart. Beneath the facade of the marketing, the gimmicks and the casting there is often an empty vessel which becomes instantly forgettable as a piece of work. In this age of jukebox musicals, a track listing is all that is required often at the expense of everything else.  

Every jaded West End producer should go and watch Sunday In The Park With George as it succeeds on every level. As a piece of entertainment it has heart, soul, sublime performances and eye catching visuals. But all of this is structured around a beautiful narrative. So what remains is a mesmerising tale of art and how it we can make parallels between what is considered classic and what is pretentious. This is made all the more interesting as you listen to Stephen Sondheim's non conveyor belt music and lyrics.  

Georges Seurat is an artist whom is much admired today but who sold no paintings whilst he was alive. Consumed by his constant love of art and perfection, those close to him struggle to be loved or even listened to as work always comes first. But as James Lapaine's rich detailed book points out, this artist wanted to be accepted through his work and struggled with other aspects of his life.But this is not a selfish man, in fact more the opposite; his gift is a curse.  

Daniel Evans gives one of the best performances you will see in the West End in a long time as the troubled artist. He perfectly captures the genius of the great man alongside his fragility. His vocal delivery is superb and his scenes with Jenna Russell are incredibly moving staying with you long after you have left the theatre.  

 Every artist needs a muse. Dot is George's rock, his love and his model. Jenna Russell brings a completely down to earth quality to this role and you completely feel her sense of longing. This love almost feels unrequited as George cannot let her in. Russell's warmth reaches the entire audience and you can see why this remarkable actress is in such high demand following her scene stealing turn in Guys and Dolls

The use of video projection has come in for a critical drubbing following The Woman In White with many referring to this unique selling point as having the effect of a power point presentation. Here though, Timothy Bird's evocative computer imagery enhances George's work and provides the audience with a great backdrop as they can see the paintings all around the stage in real minute detail. This beautiful technique throws light onto the genius at work here but also feels slightly ironic as many shows are purely smoke and mirrors whereas this production does have a pulse and a life outside of the imagery alone.

Stephen Sondheim's music is an acquired taste. Fans of big budget musicals with sing along style lyrics may be left cold by the lack of show tunes here. But in their place is depth and resonance which may not leave you humming on the way home, but better still will leave you thinking about the characters for far longer. In Act Two the audience on the night I went recognised "Putting It Together. " Barbra Streisand has recorded this track and you can see why she loves it so when you see it performed against the backdrop of a modern art opening night. Evans brings the track life playing alongside images of himself and the result is mesmerising.

The second act may not be as instantly heart warming as the first. The switch from George's work to that of his great grandson does seem a bit rushed at first. But soon you begin to marvel at the seamless link as you begin to compare the life, the art and the outcome of these parallel stories.Russell and Evans step it up a gear playing different characters  with real aplomb. 

The richness displayed throughout is evident because Sam Buntrock has directed Sondheim's work before with the London revival of Assassins, therefore each scene leaves you open mouthed in admiration. The director clearly respects the material, so much so that this adaptation acts as a love letter reinventing the musical genre with each scene.The ensemble are all superb. Although the two leads are more than capable of carrying the production, there are also some surprising cameos played to the hilt. Scenes which feature the entire cast posing for a painting are beautifully rendered as is the heart breaking number "Sunday" which will leave you feeling moved beyond your wildest dreams.

Like one of the world's finest paintings, this wonderful show will leave you wanting to go back and have another look to see if there is anything in the background that missed. But you haven't got long as Sunday In The Park With George closes on September 2nd. Catch it before it hopefully transfers to Broadway. You won't regret it as this is a show full of detail presented on a beautiful canvas that will leave recalling each scene for days afterwards.



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From This Author Glenn Meads

Living in Manchester, Glenn writes for whatsonstage.com covering Salford, Manchester and Bolton. He also teaches Media, Film and English. His favourite writers are Arthur Miller, (read more...)