TOP 100 REVIEWERon 5 March 2016
I saw this in a stunning production at the National, with Maria Friedman as Dot/Marie and Philip Quast as Georges/George, and have heard both albums made from productions – this Off/Broadway /later Broadway, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, and a later UK revival which transferred to Broadway with Daniel Evans/Jenna Russell and have to say that for my money the Americans win hands down, heart open, ear sweet.
To my ears and viscera the later British CD gains more of the dialogue, and yes, Russell is easier to hear the wonderful lyrics with, as Peters at times flounders in managing the fiercely rapid fire sung lyrics, particularly in that fizzing, dizzying opening track, however, I am more aware of Evans and Russell as musical theatre performers. By contrast, Patinkin and Peters make me feel as if I am relating to Georges/George and Dot/Marie. These two, though clearly immaculate in their technique and craft, seem to sing from within the characters they are playing.
Sunday In The Park With George is my very favourite Sondheim musical – witty, intense, audacious it takes as its inspiration the 1884-1886 painting by the pointillist Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and follows the story of the painter himself , through using his writings and ideas about art, and his artworks, and some of the major events of his short life, and the invention of the lives and identities of the people painted in that picture – most particularly, the woman in the foreground on the right hand side of the painting, with the monkey on a leash, here cast as Dot, Seurat’s model and lover. Act 1 takes place over the two years which it took Seurat to paint his picture, which now hangs in Chicago
Act 2 takes place 100 years later. George is a fairly successful installation artist, someone much more commercially driven, working the corporate world, part creative, partly with the wily cynicism of one who schmoozes but has lost his creative way through trying to second guess which way artistic fashion is heading. George is presenting his latest work, and installation structure, Chromolume Number 7, built on an initial inspiration from the pointillist and chromoluminist ideas of Seurat. Marie, George’s elderly grandmother, close to dying, reflects on her memories of her French born mother, Dot, and is a conscience, a beacon and ultimately a re-awakener of George’s lost truthful creative voice. Act 2 takes place partly in Chicago and partly in Paris, where what was that Park, 100 years ago, has inevitably been changed
Sondheim’s shimmery, weaving music, dabbing and sparkling provides a kind of musical pointillism
The album does stand on its own, but inevitably has much more bite if you know the staged musical.
My only cavil for this album is the inclusion of one of the numbers, Putting It Together, presented not by Patinkin – it is an edgy, angst ridden, cynical and vituperative piece, interrupted by dialogue, in context. Instead, it is presented as a typically ‘musical theatre’ show stopper type piece, add on at the end by a quartet of singers, none of whom belong in this production. It is, to my ears, glitz without heart or context. The final piece, although beautiful, again misses much – Peters in a tribute concert at the Carnegie Hall reprising one of the big Sunday chorus numbers. Which is somewhat different from the intensity coming out of the inhabitation of the characters of Georges/George and Dot in relationship with each other, singing those numbers.
I particularly love the two harmonious end of Act 1 and end of Act 2 'Sunday' numbers, set against the all at sea quarrelsome dissonance of the opening Act 2 number, 'It's Hot Up Here' . Taken together, these reminded me of Rossini's operas where there is often a kind of waspy, frenetic, deranged chorus piece with every character snarling confusedly, slightly deranged, and an ultimate, wonderfully uplifting harmonious and beautifully balanced resolution
Peters rather breaks the listener’s heart repeatedly with her vulnerability and generous heart quality. And Patinkin is a revelation, a very fine singer indeed, as well as actor