Review "Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George": A Few Dots Short of a Masterpiece

Porchlight Music Theatre presents


At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Musical direction by Eugene Dizon
Thru October 31st
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and fifteen minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

If this painting could talk... wait!  In the second act, it will!  Porchlight Music Theatre presents SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, the award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim.   The play revolves around Georges Seurat's famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  The artistic masterpiece illustrates the vibrant results of placing painted dots and socio-economic classes side by side on a canvas.  SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE imagines the personal struggles of an obsessed artist driven to perfection and completion.   The first act is set in 1884-1886 with Seurat's failure to be distracted by peer, maternal or romantic pressures.  Fast forward a hundred years, Seurat's possible great-grandson is creating his chromolume art inspired by a techno dot configuration.   1980's George is distracted!  His contemporary art has commercial success and now he's stuck.  Although Porchlight's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE provides visually stunning moments, some audio and pacing elements keep from 'Putting It Together' completely.  



Video projections and costumes are the art on stage.  Liviu Pasare starts the show with a projected blank slate.  Pasare adds lines and colors until an aspect of the painting comes into view.  Throughout the show, the projections continue to zero in on the dots and broaden to an image.  Mina Hyun-Ok Hong has masterfully brought to life the painting's people.  In the portrait scenes, the cast looks posed to perfection.  The beginning of Act II starts with this live art image as the cast sings a hilarious 'It's Hot Up Here.'   Sondheim has imagined the complaints of the timeless posers from a monotonous existence to shade envy.  This ensemble makes it memorable art with breaking pose only to sing a comedic line.  The best musical moments in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE are the full chorus songs.  Solos and duets are muffled or overpowered by the band.  It's either an issue with the orchestra located behind the stage, my seat at the far edge of the right section, or faulty microphones.  Playing the female lead, Jess Goodwin (Dot/Marie) is one of the most difficult to hear. 

Brandon Dahlquist (George until October 10th) is able to overcome acoustics with a powerful singing voice.  He showcases a countertenor range in a fun duet with himself.  In the 'Putting It Together' number, Dahlquist seems to get a little racy ... and not in a sexy way.   The intended chaos of the scene seems amplified to a clunky level as the music gets out of rhythm with the action.  Dahlquist attempts putting it together but it ends up looking and sounding like an awkward party.  Overall, there is a lot to enjoy about Porchlight's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, the dots just aren't close enough together to make a masterpiece.
Sitting a few seats down from me is Thtr Bob with his Thtr Mom, check out his musings on the show at Chicago Theatre Addict

Because I know Thtr Bob likes to treat his visiting mom to Chicago's finest, I recommend dining at Newport Bar and Grill, 1344 W. Newport.  It's about six blocks from the show.  It has a sports bar vibe and limited menu.  Sure there are closer and probably tastier options but my recent discovery is Tuesday is PENNY wine night at Newport!  With any entrée, defined as sandwich, salad or the spaghetti special , you can get a glass of wine for a penny.  It gets even better.  The second glass is also a penny.    My grilled chicken sandwich is substantial and satisfying.  The wine deal is a work of art! Having the six cents needed, I am willing to buy both rounds for the table.  Bob insists on treating his competitive ice skating mother AND me to a lovely dinner.  Tuesday in the Theatre with Bob. What's better than that?

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