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Sondheim’s ‘Sunday In The Park With George’ revived at newly refurbished Hudson Theater

Photos by Matthew Murphy

BY BOB NESOFF AND VICTORIA SCHNEPS

Revivals often differ widely from the originals. While the venerable Hudson Theater has undergone major renovations, transforming it into a beautiful theatrical venue, “Sunday In The Park With George” has returned as a minimalist production.

Don’t let that make you hesitate. Minimalist has become the byword for many revivals and even a new production here and there. Let’s go with the thought that any production with Jake Gyllenhaal starts off with high expectations.

The original production of “Sunday In The Park With George” in 1985 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, earned two Tonys and was nominated for best musical. The show was revived in 2008 with a British production brought to America.

Those are big shoes to fill and while the current production falls a bit short, it is still a very worthwhile show to see.

Gyllenhaal plays French painter Georges Seurat, a master of the post-impressionist era. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, along with James Lapine (book), delve into the story of how Seurat created his oversize masterpiece, “A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte.”

There is a toll taken on any artist, painter, writer, poet as the creative process wears on. Here we explore Seurat’s vision as well as his passion and a deep obsession that drains him as he works the creative process. Gyllenhaal is an excellent actor and is possessed of an amazingly good voice.

This isn’t Dorian Grey, but the figures in the painting, relaxing in a park along the River Seine, all come to life. They represent what would have been seen along the river’s walkway; people of all sizes, shapes and classes who are out for a day of fun and relaxation. They argue, flirt with one another and simply enjoy the day.

While Seurat is capturing them on canvas, Dot (Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford) tries desperately to get his attention.

Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal
Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal

Here is where the minimalist stage setting is a bit of a distraction. Scenery is projected on a sheet hanging from the ceiling. This is without question a takeaway from the atmosphere the setting is attempting to convey.

Director Sarna Lapine makes her Broadway debut with this show, and while she is attempting to convey a feeling, it’s a bit off. The show’s moment to shine was with the beautiful number, “Sunday,” it does not really strike the chord she is looking for.

As the actors sing the Act I number, Seurat poses the actors in the positions they would hold in the painting and the freeze in place creating a tableau.

The second act brings Gyllenhaal as an American artist, coincidentally named “George,” at an art party with his grandmother, Marie (also played by Ashford) and a child that Dot had when with Seurat.

Art through the years has been a business, especially so in modern times. George finds success by repeating himself with a series of electrified works he refers to as “chromalumes.” This is a demonstration of his works using colored lights that dance overhead in the theater and is one of the better moments of the show.

The show is in a limited run until April 21. The Hudson Theater is at 139-141 West 44th St. between Times Square and 6th Avenue.

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