Seattle Theatre Stages Sondheim Musical

Ruzan Haruriunyan's picture

Stephen Sondheim's exquisite musical about art, life, and what artists draw from both, Sunday in the Park with George, opens at The 5th Avenue Theatre on April 23.

This rarely-seen but much-lauded musical features an all-star Seattle cast (led by Broadway actor Hugh Panaro in the leading role of George), and the astonishing scenic design and computer animation effects created by Sam Buntrock and designers Tim Bird and David Farley.

The team's original production at London's Menier Chocolate Factory, a 200-seat fringe theater housed in a converted 19th-century confectioner's works, took critics and audiences by storm, winning the company five Olivier awards (the British equivalent of the Tonys) and transferring to the West End. Drawing on Buntrock's experience as a computer animator, the production, as well as its New York revival at the Roundabout Theatre, received critical raves for the use of state-of-the-art computer imaging technology, bringing George Seurat's original painting "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" onto the stage in three dimensions, and placing the actors inside the world of the masterpiece. Now this stunning animation will find a more vast canvas than any of its previous productions on the majestic stage of The 5th Avenue.

This will be the only production outside of New York and London to include the revival's effects, which were created by the director's animation studios over a year of painstaking effort. For the first time, George's painting takes shape right before our eyes-each line, each element, even mistakes made and rubbed out before he resumes his work. It will also be the first production to combine these effects with the glorious sound of a full orchestra, conducted by the 5th's resident musical director Ian Eisendrath-the first two productions were in much smaller spaces with limited musical accompaniment.

Inspired by the life of French painter Georges Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George follows the painter's creation of his masterpiece in a story that examines what an artist has left to give when he's given everything to his art. In the musical's first half, we see Seurat's epic vision, a huge canvas comprised not of brushstrokes but of colored dots of paint, comes together piece by piece, while in the second half, his modern descendant (also named George) learns that "art isn't easy" in a cultural scene that values cocktail chatter more than artistic intent. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1985, Sunday in the Park with George, with book by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine (Into the Woods, Passion), contains some of the most beautiful and stirring songs ever written by the composer, including "Putting It Together," "Finishing the Hat," "Move On," and "Sunday."

The cast for Sunday includes Hugh Panaro as the two Georges. Panaro, one of Broadway's most celebrated leading men, has been a featured performer in Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Martin Guerre, and was last seen here as Bobby in the 5th's 2006 production of Sondheim's Company. Accompanying Panaro onstage are a stellar cast of Seattle artists, including Anne Allgood, Allen Fitzpatrick, Patti Cohenour, David Drummond, Richard Gray, Chad Jennings and perennial audience favorite Billie Wildrick as Dot, the woman who strives to break through George's single-minded obsession with his art. --

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