Sunday in the Park with George

‘Colour and light’ exclaims Georges, and this production takes that seriously. In a striking and ambitious design, One Academy Productions offer a visual feast of lighting, staging and costume. The Sondheim score isn’t bad, either.Credited by many other composers and critics as Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sunday in the Park is a subtle and complex work which demands constant attention from its audience. The show’s genius lies in how faithfully it represents painter Georges Seurat’s artistic vision. Sondheim constructs his accompaniments from pointillist constellations of seemingly unrelated notes – notes that just shouldn’t work. His lyrics form a coherent whole only when viewed from three steps back, by noticing the resonances of repeated ideas: the hat, the dog, the grass. This approach to musical theatre composition may be original and brilliant, but it can be difficult to enjoy even now, 26 years after its Broadway opening.The ensemble dealt well with the tough vocal parts. The song ‘Sunday’ was exceedingly well-executed; with none of the terrible vibrato you hear on some recordings muffling the intricate harmonies. Growing steadily to its incredible climax, ‘Sunday’ came to be a ritual – spiritual in its affective force. The ‘chorus’, each with highly characterised named parts, added a welcome dynamism to the intentional stasis. Occasionally I was left wanting more from Robert Dalton as Georges/George. Slips in pitch on held notes were unfortunate, and he got lost in his own rubato during ‘Finishing the Hat’. He lacked a certain engagement with the audience, or a sense of mania during the rapid painting scenes. Rescuing Dalton’s shortcomings were Sarah Gibbons and Ruthie Luff who alternate the role of Dot. Gibbons’ gutsy and sophisticated vocal performance was matched by her charming and endearing characterisation, and although Luff’s voice was clearly tired, her more feisty portrayal of Seurat’s lover contrasted nicely with Dalton’s reserve.Sunday in the Park demands a huge commitment to technical and artistic vision which makes it an unconventional choice of show, especially for a Fringe production. The lighting was complex and integral to the meaning of the drama. The period costumes were exquisite and the set, representing Seurat’s works, was suitably stylised and multi-functional, if a little wobbly at times. The orchestra dealt fantastically well with the fiddly score, and the cheeky on-stage horn player was a nice touch. The fact there’s a large band typifies the production values of this flagship show.For Sondheim fans this musical is a must-see, not least because it is so rarely done, but also because of the respect paid to the book and score by the talented cast and production team. In all honesty, even I find the show tough to listen to in parts. Relentless clashes and extremes of vocal range do not make for an easy-listening musical, but Sunday in the Park with George is greatly rewarding.

Reviews by James Robert Ball

Leicester Square Theatre

De Profundis

★★★★

Another Way

★★★

Solstice

★★★

The Walls

★★★

The Blurb

Art, love, obsession, committment. Sondheim's landmark musical, inspired by the creation of one of the world's greatest Impressionist paintings. An absolute must-see. 'Best ensemble cast in Edinburgh ... deserve more stars than I can hand out' (BroadwayBaby.com).