CCAE's Sunday in the Park with George is a Piece that Takes its Time

The Sondheim Musical Shares a Fictionalized Passage of French Artist Georges Seurat 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Will Blum in Sunday in the Park with George.(Courtesy of Holly Lapp)
My dad is a full-on plastic artist. His day job is as a political cartoonist and he is an amazing drawer but, I have always felt that his true love, is painting. I say this because, artists in general have a special temper, a special way of seeing things and feeling things. The musical Sunday in the Park with George illustrates that perfectly. California Center for the Arts Escondido continues defying gravity with these high-end, large productions that have blown the county away. 'George, with a book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, first saw the light in 1983 on Broadway. The now-gone Ion Theatre company produced Sunday in the Park with George in 2016 at the San Diego Museum of Art. Did not see it but I can only imagine the creativity... Escondido took it to the fullest and then some, although, in the beginning, the first act is slow however, once the second act starts going, the whole piece lands its shape and it all makes sense. An opportunity lost by them quitters leaving at intermission. I, seriously cannot grasp that! You have to give it a chance! Shout out to the lady sitting next to me that was FILING her nails during act one before she left (I am a magnet for these people)...anyway... 

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George. Photo Ken Jaques
The plot, based on the French painter Georges Seurat and his masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a work that marked the pointillism technique and, the impressionist movement. The piece shows George's (Will Blum) cathartic ways, struggling with being a good artist, making meaningful art, and, trying to keep up with the relationship with his mistress Dot (Emily Lopez). (I love that her name is DOT). The setting is the Island of La Grande Jatte, recreated simply but creatively by scenic designer George Gonzalez, where we see the strollers and families walking around enjoying their Sunday. George has Dot modeling and she is not having it as staying still is not easy, especially if it is under the burning sun. Wooden trees land from the "sky" melodically to the rhythm of the music, while other characters make their way into the story like George's mom (Debbie Prutsman) and her nurse (Amanda Dayhoff). Dot wants attention and George is oblivious, immersed in his creation. She decides to learn how to read and write and as she is doing her exercises in a red notebook, she also takes notes of what she observes of George and his work...It does not help that Jules, another artist (Nicholas Bailey), and Yvonne, his wife (Zanna Wyant) supposed art connoisseurs/experts, are practically breathing down George's neck for him to deliver the next best thing. Dot cannot take it anymore and leaves George to shortly after, start a relationship with Louis the baker (Elias Wygodny) who does not care that she is pregnant with George's baby. Whoops! 1884 drama for ya' -which is the time the first act is set on- continuing to happen between songs and poses until the famous painting is recreated onstage with the actors to the song of "Sunday" and beautifully lit by Michelle Miles lighting design and of course, traced all throughout harmoniously by sound designer Jon Fredette. The ensemble is well-equipped and the delivery is beautiful. And, speaking of, the song titled Beautiful sung by Debbie Prutsman and Will Blum, is amazing. Debbie's whole heart is in it, a true -in the moment- delivery bringing the audience in. Wonderfully done. Blum is intense all throughout from the stare to the mannerisms, a sharp and clean portrayal.

The second act is 100 years later in 1984 with George the artist and (allegedly) great-grandson of Seurat. He is at an American Art museum during an important opening as he pays homage to the artist by presenting the masterpiece in a new light -literally- through or with a chromolume a sound and light machine with its own song Chromolume #7 where the 20th-century artist questions everything stating "if art is never finished, sold, or exhibited, is it really art?". 

If Michelle Miles's lighting design was impressive during the first act well, the second is the pinnacle teaming with Patrick Gates's projection design bringing an impressive reinterpretation of the painting with movement, illumination, colors, and sound. George's grandmother Marie is there to present with him stating that her mother is featured in the painting which George dismisses. George gets to visit the french island that is now surrounded by buildings and the survival of one tree. Marie has passed. Since they were going together, George pulls out the red notebook and the truths start falling into place. It was very cool to see how the actors from 1884 "reincarnated" in 1984 surrounding George as gallerists, art critics, etc. The clothes are a big piece to this puzzle too as Janet Pitcher's costume design in the first act consists of lace parasols, hoop skirts, long dresses, and padding to the eighties in the second act with mini skirts, suits, and hairspray.

Will Blum and Emily Lopez. Photo Ken Jaques.

Emily Lopez goes from Dot to Marie and she is absolutely lovely. I appreciated her Marie way more than her Dot because there is so much juice in the grandmother. T.J. Dawson did a wonderful job directing this talented cast also made up of Tucker Boyes, DeAndre Simmons, Liliana Rodriguez, Tori Stamm, Catherine & Elizabeth Last, Debra Wanger, Juan Danner, Ethan Park, and the swings Nikki Kelder and Golden Lamb.

I am not a Sondheim fan (gasp) but this musical although as Sondheim as Sondheim can get, is one that I liked, and musical director Elan McMahan I believe, had something to do with it as I enjoyed the live music and even more so when the musicians revealed themselves at the back of the stage. It was splendid.

This show closes on Sunday, if you have the chance, I recommend you check it out. For performance times and ticket prices please click HERE.

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