Sunday In The Park With George Analysis Essay

Yet most of these people are little more that fleeting cameos. As is often the case in Sondheim musicals, we don't care about the characters - and here, more than ever, it's clear we're not meant to care. To Seurat, these people are just models for a meditative composition that's not intended to tell any story: In his painting, the figures are silent and expressionless, and even Dot is but fodder for dots. Mr. Lapine and Mr. Sondheim tease us with their characters' various private lives - which are rife with betrayals - only to sever those stories abruptly the moment Seurat's painting has found its final shape. It's the authors' way of saying that they, too, regard their ''characters'' only as forms to be manipulated into a theatrical composition whose content is more visual and musical than dramatic.

As a result, when Seurat finishes ''La Grande Jatte'' at the end of Act I, we're moved not because a plot has been resolved but because a harmonic work of art has been born. As achieved on stage - replete with pointillist lighting by Richard Nelson and costumes by Patricia Zipprodt and Ann Hould-Ward - the ''fixing'' of the picture is an electrifying coup de theatre. Tellingly enough, the effect is accompanied by the first Sondheim song of the evening that allows the cast to sing in glorious harmony. The song's lyric, meanwhile, reminds us that the magical order of both the painting and this musical has transfigured - and transcended - the often ugly doings in ''a small suburban park'' on an ''ordinary Sunday.''

Act II, though muddled, is equally daring: The show jumps a full century to focus on a present-day American artist also named George (and again played by Mr. Patinkin). This protagonist is possibly a double for Mr. Sondheim at his most self-doubting. George makes large, multimedia conceptual sculptures that, like Broadway musicals, require collaborators, large budgets and compromises; his values are distorted by a trendy art world that, like show business, puts a premium on hype, fashion and the tyranny of the marketplace.

The fanciful time-travel conceits that link this George to Seurat are charming. Rather less successful is the authors' reversion to a compressed, conventional story about how the modern George overcomes his crisis of confidence to regenerate himself as a man and artist. When George finally learns how to ''connect'' with other people and rekindles his esthetic vision, his breakthrough is ordained by two pretty songs, ''Children and Art'' and ''Move On,'' which seem as inorganic as the equivalent inspirational number (''Being Alive'') that redeems the born-again protagonist in Mr. Sondheim's ''Company.''

The show's most moving song is ''Finishing the Hat'' - which, like many of Mr. Sondheim's best, is about being disconnected. Explaining his emotional aloofness to Dot, Seurat sings how he watches ''the rest of the world from a window'' while he's obsessively making art. And if the maintenance of that solitary emotional distance means that Seurat's art (and, by implication, Mr. Sondheim's) is ''cold,'' even arrogant, so be it. ''Sunday'' argues that the esthetic passion in the cerebrally ordered classicism of modern artists is easily as potent as the sentimental passion of romantic paintings or conventional musicals.

In keeping with his setting, Mr. Sondheim has written a lovely, wildly inventive score that sometimes remakes the modern French composers whose revolution in music paralleled the post-impressionists' in art. (A synthesizer is added for the modern second act.) The accompanying lyrics can be brilliantly funny. Mr. Sondheim exploits the homonyms ''kneads'' and ''needs'' to draw a razor-sharp boundary between sex and love; a song in which Seurat's painted figures break their immortal poses to complain about ''sweating in a picture that was painted by a genius'' is a tour de force. But there's often wisdom beneath the cleverness. When Seurat's aged mother laments a modern building that her son admires, the Eiffel Tower, Mr. Patinkin sings that ''all things are beautiful'' because ''what the eye arranges is what is beautiful.''

What Mr. Lapine, his designers and the special-effects wizard Bran Ferren have arranged is simply gorgeous, and the fine supporting players add vibrant colors to their pallette. Mr. Patinkin is a crucible of intellectual fire - ''he burns you with his eyes,'' says Dot, with reason - and the wonderful Miss Peters overflows with all the warmth and humor that George will never know.

Both at the show's beginning and end, the hero is embracing not a woman, but the empty white canvas that he really loves - for its ''many possibilities.'' Look closely at that canvas - or at ''Sunday in the Park'' itself - and you'll get lost in a sea of floating dots. Stand back and you'll see that this evening's two theater artists, Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine, have woven all those imaginative possibilities into a finished picture with a startling new glow.

Stageful of Dots SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by James Lapine; directed by Mr. Lapine; scenery by Tony Straiges; costumes by Patricia Zipprodt and Ann Hould-Ward; lighting by Richard Nelson; special effects by Bran Ferren; sound by Tom Morse; hair and makeup, Lo Presto/Allen; movement by Randolyn Zinn; musical direction by Paul Gemignani; orchestrations by Michael Starobin; music published by Tommy Valando. Presented by the Shubert Organization and Emanuel Azenberg, by arangement with Playwrights Horizons. At the Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street. GeorgeMandy Patinkin Dot and MarieBernadette Peters Jules and Bob GreenbergCharles Kimbrough Old Lady and Blir DanielsBarbara Bryne Yvonne and Naomi EisenDana Ivey Celeste No. 2 and ElaineMary D'Arcy Boy and LouiseDanielle Ferland Man, Louis and Billy WebsterCris Groenendaal Mr. and Lee RandolphKurt Knudson Nurse, Mrs. and Harriet PawlingJudith Moore Frieda and BettyNancy Opel Boatman and Charles RedmondWilliam Parry Franz and DennisBrent Spiner Celeste No. 1 and WaitressMelanie Vaughan Soldier and AlexRobert Westenberg Man With Bicycle and Museum Assistant John Jellison Woman With Baby Carriage and Photographer Sue Anne Gershenson Little GirlMichele Rigan

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SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

a musical in two acts. Book by James Lapine. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

Produced at the Booth Theatre, New York, 2 May 1984 with Mandy Patinkin (Georges/George), Bernadette Peters (Dot/Marie) and Charles Kimbrough (Jules/Bob).
Produced at the Royal National Theatre, London, 15 March 1990 with Philip Quast, Maria Friedman and Gary Raymond.


Story

Act I

A Sunday in Paris in 1884. Georges, an artist who is experimenting with innovative painting techniques, is seated in front of a bare white stage, blank drawing-pad in hand. His challenge? Tring order to the whole." As he speaks, the shimmering sea of white before him begins to transform itself - into a park on the island of La Grande Jatte. Georges starts to draw. A boat glides on, a couple appears in the distance and trees magically materialise. One tree, though, displeases Georges. He erases it from his pad and, suddenly, it is removed up into the sky and out of sight. For Dot, his model and long-suffering lover, standing in the sun, with no shade because there's no tree, it's just another Sunday In the Park with George.

Now, however, we are in a gallery, where Jules, another painter, and his wife Yvonne are considering Georges' first major painting, "Bathing at Asnières". It is too cerebral, they conclude, too cold, too controlled. There is No Life in his art, says Jules. No life in his life, adds Yvonne. In the painter's studio, Dot sits at a vanity mirror powdering her face, while, in an identical rhythm, Georges dabs spots of red and purple and white on his new painting: it's only Colour and Light. She is preparing to go to the Follies with him, but his painting proves more important -he has to stay to finish a hat. Dot leaves in a rage, realising that for Georges, his art will always come first.

Returning to the park on another Sunday sometime later, Georges. paints two women called Celeste as they Gossip about these poor deluded artists. Dot, pregnant, has a new lover, a baker called Louis. She has left Georges because she needs someone with an income to support her. Georges is, as ever, absorbed in his painting: today, he is imagining life as the Boatman's dog Spot, relishing The Day Off on the grass - after a "ruff" week. He goes when he sees Dot returning with the baker. True, he's not what she had in mind, but, in a way, his pastries are works of art and Everyone Loves Louis.

Georges is sorry Dot has left, but that is his life: he watches the world go by, while he sits at his easel, lost in some tiny detail, Finishing the Hat. "Look, 1 made a hat," he says, "where there never was a hat . . . " Dot knows now that Georges is whole, complete. But she is not self-contained, she needs to move on. She understands that We Do Not Belong Together. When she comes by with their child, he does not even look up. "Louis is her father," he says. "Louis is not her father," Dot replies. "Louis is her father now", says Georges. Dot and Louis will take the baby to America.

In the park, the Old Lady - Georges' mother - urges him to paint, and preserve, everything that is Beautiful before it disappears, before new buildings obliterate the trees. Even as Georges insists that change is beautiful, his mother pines for the old view. Around him, the park fills with characters, squabbling and fighting until Georges calls for "order" and "balance". He commences to re-arrange the people and the trees and, from the chaos, assembles a peaceful promenade on La Grande Jatte. Harmony at last. As the fractious ensemble comes together to form his painting, Georges freezes his models in their final poses: an ordinary, perfect Sunday

Act II

It is still a Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte. But the serenity of the final tableau has degenerated into petty bickering among the figures in the painting. It's monotonous, it's not Franz's good profile. Jules is completely out of proportion and, worst of all, It's Hot Up Here. These people have been stuck in the same poses for almost a century and they're sick of it. It is now 1984 and Georges' work is on exhibition in America, where his and Dot's daughter Marie, as old as the painting, have come to see it.

With her is her grandson, another George, another artist. Although he's never really believed that the woman in the picture is his grandmother, his latest commission, a big white electrical machine with a sphere on top called Chromolume #7, is his own way of commemorating the famous painting. After some technical hitches, the machine finally functions and George and Marie narrate the history of Georges Seurat. After the performance the museum's Director announces that the new condominium development above the gallery is now open for viewing. The inconsequential chit-chat is depressing, but necessary. Link by link, drink by drink, clink by clink, George is Putting It Together - making the deal so that he can finish the art: connections lead to commissions lead to exhibitions. As the glittering guests drift off to dinner, Marie looks at her mother in the painting, remembering what she said about Children and Art and trying to relate her to her young grandson.

But Marie dies and George is invited to present his Chromolume in Paris. The island of La Grande Jatte is now a cacophony of concrete towers and the park his supposed great-grandfather painted has dwindled away to a tiny patch of grass. George has his great-grandmother's old grammar book and is idly intoning Lesson #8: "Charles has a book. . ." "Marie has the ball of Charles . . . " George misses Marie. And, as he thinks of her, Dot appears.

Despite his protestations that he has nothing more to say in his art, she urges him to Move On and, as he reads the words Dot's Georges scribbled in her book a century ago, the original promenaders re-convene for one more perfect Sunday. George looks again at the book: "A black page or canvas. His favourite. So many possibilities . . . " The stage fades to white, and Dot slowly disappears.

Musical Numbers

Act I

  1. Sunday in the Park with George – Georges & Dot
  2. No Life – Jules, Yvonne
  3. Color and Light – Dot, Georges
  4. Gossip – Celeste #1, Celeste #2, Boatman, Nurse, Old Lady, Jules, Yvonne
  5. The Day Off – Company
  6. Everybody Loves Louis – Dot
  7. The One on the Left – Soldier, Celeste #1, Celeste #2, Georges
  8. Finishing the Hat – Georges
  9. We Do Not Belong Together – Dot, Georges
  10. Beautiful – Old Lady, Georges
  11. Sunday – Company

Act II

  1. It's Hot Up Here – Company
  2. Chromolume #7 - Orchestra
  3. Putting It Together – Company
  4. Children and Art – Marie
  5. Lesson #8 – George
  6. Move On – George, Dot
  7. Sunday (Reprise) – Company

Characters

1884:

  • Georges - An artist, bearded and brooding, and determined to perfect a new technique of painting: Pointillism - in which the small dabs of individual colours are mixed by the viewer into a scene of dazzling colours and light.
  • Dot - Georges' model, mistress and the mother of his child. She busies herself with a grammar book that is helping her to read and write.
  • Jules - Another painter.
  • Yvonne - Jules' wife.
  • Louise - Their daughter.
  • An Old Lady - A regular stroller in the park and also Georges' mother, though she's not eager to advertise the relationship.
  • The Old Lady's Nurse
  • Celeste #1, Celeste #2 - Two pretty gossips.
  • Louis - A baker who kneads dough and needs Dot.
  • Mr and Mrs - Two crass tourists from the United States.
  • Franz - A servant.
  • Frieda - A cook.
  • A Boatman - The owner of a black dog, Spot

A Woman With Baby Carriage, A Man With a Bicycle, A Soldier, A Little Girl, A Boy Bathing In the River, Two Young Men On the Bank.

1984:

  • George - An artist, but one who spends more time massaging potential sources of commissions than his predecessor.
  • Marie - Dot's daughter by the first Georges, now old and wheelchair-bound.
  • Bob Greenberg - A museum director, preoccupied keeping up with the new.
  • Naomi Eisen - Composer of the music for Georges' Chromolume presentations
  • Blair Daniels - An art critic who once championed George but now thinks he's just repeating himself.
  • Harriet Pawling - A wealthy patron of the arts.
  • Elaine - Georges' ex-wife.
  • Billy Webster - A friend of Harriet's.
  • Lee Randolph - The museum's publicist.
  • Dennis - A technician at the museum.
  • Betty and Alex - Other artists.
  • Charles Redmond - A visiting curator of the County commissions to dispense.

A Photographer, A Museum Assistant and A Waitress.

Orchestration Details

REED 1 - Piccolo, Flute, Cor Anglais, Soprano Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
REED II - Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, Cor Anglais, Alto Sax, Clarinet
HORN (Bb and F)
SYNTHESIZER
PIANO db. CELESTA
HARP
PERCUSSION
2 VIOLINS
VIOLA
CELLO

Discography

RCA VICTOR RD 85042 Original Cast 

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