“Sunday in the Park with George,” which opened Thursday night at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, is a play about a painting.
A very famous painting: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” which Georges Seurat painted between 1882 and 1884.
It’s about the painting’s creation and the role it played in destroying a relationship, forging a family legacy and inspiring a man who feels he has lost his soul.
Stephen Sondheim and (Franklin & Marshall College graduate) James Lapine created a profoundly moving story about our deepest need to leave something of ourselves behind as we move on with our lives.
This EPAC production, its second in 15 years, swims right into the deep end and feels right at home there.
Kudos to Ed Fernandez for bringing together an amazing cast and crew and bringing the best out of all of them.
The production values across the line are wonderful, including Jennifer Farrington and Kate Willman’s sublime costumes and Mike Rhoads’ stunning set.
The two acts in the show are set 100 years apart.
The first, set in the 1880s, tells the story of the creation of the painting.
The second, set almost 100 years later, tells the story of the power of the painting to inspire Seurat’s descendants.
Sounds pretty heavy duty and at times it is, but this production is also very funny and entertaining.
The cast is led by Sean Young, who plays both Seurat and his great-grandson, another artist named George (and a totally fictional character).
Young is reprising his role from the 1999 production, which also was directed by Fernandez.
His performance this time is tinged with an older and wiser sense of regret, which suits the show nicely.
Young’s voice is magnificent and his performance is deep and moving. It’s a knockout without being too showy, something that is never easy to do.
Stacia Smith plays Dot, his model and mistress, who tries in vain to bring Georges out of himself, to see more than the painting in front of him.
But she fails.
Georges sketches all the people in the park, who are busy living their lives, laughing, loving, lying and getting into fights with each other.
But Seurat is only watching, not participating.
That crowd, which we will see in the painting, provides a lot of the humor in the show and everyone is wonderful to watch.
Carl Bomberger and Meegan Gagnon are servants Franz and Frieda, who are always bickering and sneaking around with other people.
Richard Bradbury is Jules, a conventional artist who doesn’t understand Seurat’s work. Kristie Ohlinger is his unhappy wife, Yvonne, and Carly Kuriger is Louise, their bratty daughter.
Also thrown into the pool are: Nick Smith as a solder who pals around with a cardboard cut out soldier (the cut outs are used to great comic effect through both acts); Lauren Adkins and Sophie Gialloreto as the two women vying for his attention; Gene Ellis and Tara Beitzel as awful American tourists who only want to go home; Adam Dienner as Louie, a baker who will marry Dot and go to work for the awful American tourists, and Preston Schreffler as a boatman who is mad at the world.
Elizabeth Pattey reprises her role from 1999 as Georges’ mother, who misses the past and can’t understand her driven son, and Kathleen Harris Brantman is her nurse, who is having a fling with Franz.
In the second act, everyone takes on new roles, at a snooty art opening where George is showing off his latest piece of art, which he claims was inspired by his great-grandfather’s painting, even though he knows it wasn’t really.
The first part of the act has a goofier quality as the show parodies the soulless modern art of the moment movement, which is miles away from Seurat’s commitment to his art. The great song “Putting It Together” is a blast.
George is making a great living, while his great-grandfather never sold a painting. He feels adrift.
Marie, his grandmother (also played by Smith) gives him the wisdom to understand that art is what speaks to his soul, not what can make money or get him attention.
Smith really shines as Marie. She is funny and sings the powerful “Children and Art” with just the right amount of poignancy. Her Dot is a little cool, but Marie is filled with warmth.
The ensemble sounds wonderful and when everyone is singing the gorgeous “Sunday,” you’ll get goose bumps.
Music supervisor JP Meyer and his eight piece orchestra sound magnificent. This really is some of the most beautiful music Sondheim has ever written and they do it justice.
Great art, whether is be a painting or a musical, is about being human and all the complexities that involves.
Maybe “Sunday in the Park with George” is so powerful because it lays claim to that idea and puts it right out there.
And this wonderful production fully embraces the idea. It is a terrific legacy for all involved.
“Sunday in the Park with George” is running though May 17 at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.