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Theater review: 'Sunday in the Park with George' beautifully flawless at Muhlenberg

“Sunday in the Park with George” uses a theme that seemingly only Stephen Sondheim could get away with. Sondheim did the music and lyrics with the book by James Lapine. It revolves around the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat in 1884.

Muhlenberg College is presenting a flawless production of the musical, directed by James Peck with a cast of 18, a 12-piece orchestra and a huge production staff. Because of the subject matter, this is much more pastoral than most of Sondheim’s works. The first act centers on the fictional love triangle of Seurat (Evan Brooks), his model Dot (Kelly Shannon), and Seurat’s obsession with art, which causes him to neglect Dot.

The other characters are imagined, taken from Seurat’s painting. They come to life gossiping, flirting and complaining, with Seurat floating in and out to sketch them. The actors often freeze in a position that replicates their placement in the painting.

In the first part of the second act, they actually speak as if they are stuck in the painting itself.

All the vocalists are so good that the best musical numbers are the ensemble pieces, in addition to the excellent singing of Brooks and Shannon. Two casts appear on alternate days at Muhlenberg, with nearly all different players except the two leads. There is only one set for each act, but they are cleverly designed.

The first has moving trees and boats on the river and the second has multi-media displays and elaborate lighting. A large replica of the painting is used in both. The second act takes place a century later, with the actors from Act One playing different roles.

George (Brooks) is the great grandson of Seurat and Dot. He is struggling to find a place in the art world, schmoozing the upper classes for recognition and commissions. He presents his latest production with his 98-year-old grandmother Marie (Shannon), the child of Seurat and Dot.

The ending is a bit schmaltzy, but a happy ending is almost required after two and a half hours.

“Sunday in the Park with George” does not come around very often because of its size and musical complexity, so you should visit La Grande Jatte while you have the chance. “Sunday in the Park with George,” 8 pm Nov.

2-4, 2 pm Nov.

5, Muhlenberg College, Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Performing Arts, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Tickets:£22; £8 students and 17 and under, Nov 2 show has open captioning; Nov.

5 show open captioning and audio description. muhlenberg.edu/theatre, 484-664-3333. Dave Howell is a freelance writer.

jodi.duckett@mcall.com[1] Twitter @goguidelv[2]

610-820-6704

References

  1. ^ jodi.duckett@mcall.com (www.mcall.com)
  2. ^ @goguidelv (twitter.com)

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