Theater in Chicago Fall 2010: Porchlight's Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park with George" opens at Stage 773.

Seurat, La Grande Jatte.jpg

Georges-Pierre Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte–1884-86, The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

Since its beginning, in 1983, when Sunday in the Park with George, first opened Off-Broadway with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters as the leads, this glorious production has been a hit with theatergoers everywhere.

What better place than Chicago, home to Georges Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”  to see “Sunday in the Park with George”–the play based on this painting.

If you haven’t looked closely at this Seurat pointillism masterpiece in past visits to its home at the Art Institute of Chicago, I would highly recommend you spent some time revisiting it before going to the Porchlight production.

sundayMichael Pacas(Boatman) & Brandon Dahlquist(George).jpg

This newest revival by Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre, Chicago’s foremost interpreter of Stephen Sondheim musicals, features Brandon Dahiquist as George and Jess Godwin in duel roles as Dot, his lover and 100 years later as a grandmother (Act II).  The story begins in 1884, when George who is 26-years-old at the time, is sketching studies for what will become his most famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” with his muse/mistress Dot, as his model. Perspectives and colors change with George’s moods and the seasons.  As George sketches, the audience is allowed to envision the world as he sees it with landscapes and people projected on the large on-stage translucent canvases–revealing the duel story of his life as an artist and of the people and creatures who visit the park. 

The wonderful score by Stephen Sondheim introduces the many people who inhabit the painting and the park with the opening number “Sunday In The Park with George.”  The fate of the star-crossed lovers, George and Dot, is powerfully laid out in “We Do Not Belong Together.” 

Porchlight does a yeoman’s job of producing this show on a smaller stage.  The cast is well 

SundayJess Godwin (Dot).jpg

chosen.  Brandon Dahiquist as George (through October 11) presents a cutting figure in both acts –as the two Georges–and projects his songs in a sensitive manner.  Jess Godwin (Dot/Marie) is equally good in her duel roles as the young mistress in Act I and the elderly grandmother in Act II. The supporting cast members are likable.  Although not a large role, Michael Pacas as the Boatman, adds a toughness, humor and believability to this memorable character.  Sara Stern as the old lady and Sarah Hayes as her nurse were both powerful forces with strong vocals.

In some regards, the show is actually two shows in one.  Act I tells the story of the George Seurat while Act II jumps ahead 100 years to continue the story of his descendant–an American sculptor in the 1980’s.  One could walk away after Act I and leave with the sense that they had seen a complete play.  Interestingly, the original 1983 production was only one act.  The second act was added in 1984.

Technically, it can be argued that Sunday in the Park with George is one of the most difficult shows to produce and kudos to Porchlight for putting it together.  Although there are some flaws, the show moves gracefully along with the magnificent Sondheim score and the magical coming together of the Seurat painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” It is a show for the ages and one that can be enjoyed over and over in its various revivals–“a pure delight to watch.” 

Show Information:
Sunday in the Park with George runs through October 31, 2010 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Single tickets are $38 with discounts for seniors, students and groups.  There is metered parking along Belmont Ave.  Valet parking is available at the theater for $10.  Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15 minute
intermission.  Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and coffee are available for purchase
in the lobby and may be taken inside the theater.

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