Produced by The Village Players
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Kevin Long
Music Direction by Kim Widmer
Good intentions do not always make good theatre,
Only seven musicals have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and much to my chagrin only one has gone to Stephen Sondheim. Aside from sheer brilliant songwriting, Sondheim is responsible for straying from the traditional book musical and introducing the world to the concept musical. Sondheim has served as inspiration for many including Jonathan Larson, creator of Rent (which also went onto win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama).
Sunday In the Park with George is a fictionalized account of the painter George Seraut and the creation of his masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte”.
Sondheim and Lapine also explore the theme(s) of how art has been misunderstood and criticized similarly in the past the present. The same goes for the pain and sacrifice required to be an artist. This is a complex musical, which is why it garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
I feel of all of his work Sunday In the Park with George is not his best, but certainly the most challenging to pull off. It does not have the grandiose of Sweeney Todd or iconic references of Into The Woods, but it requires subtly and performers at the top of their games. If done correctly (a la Gary Griffin’s Chicago Shakespeare revival) it will be a beautifully moving experience. Put into the wrong hands and you have the entertainment value of watching paint dry. I am sorry to say that The Village Players revival falls into the latter category.
The first, and major challenge presented by Stephen Sondheim is his music and lyrics require vocal acrobatics akin to Shakespeare, and James Lapine gives an equally challenging book. Stephanie Herman, who played Dot/Marie, is the only member of this cast up to the challenge. The downfall of this production ultimately falls to director Kevin Long, whose flaccid production was void of any urgency, emotion, or imagination. However, I was quite impressed with the atmosphere created by Suzanne Mann (Costume Designer) and Rebecca Hamlin (Set Design Consultant). These two made me feel like I was living in the painting.
I was excited to see someone tackling this rarely revived musical, but Village Players could not meet the challenge. My advice is to save you the trip and Netflix the Bernadette Peters/Mandy Patinkin production.
Reviewed by Chris Arnold
Presented on the Main Stage of the Village Player Performing Arts Center located 1010 Madison St, Oak Park. Plenty of parking is available on the street. The theater is handicap accessible; please call ahead to arrange special seating. Sunday in the Park with George performs Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $28 for General Admission, $22 for 65 or older/18 or younger.