“Putting it together; that’s what counts. Small amounts adding up to make a work of art.” So sings George, the great-grandson of painter Georges Seurat in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s theatrical masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George. That work of art has been put together beautifully at Creighton University’s theater. Amy Lane has directed superbly. She and her impressive cast along with musical director Stephen Sheftz’s orchestra add up all the amounts to bring forth so much that counts. This is a rare opportunity to witness the 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner, made all the more rare because this production closes November 8th.
The cast, almost all students, sings impeccably. And the 25 member orchestra, half of which consists of students, plays Sondheim’s intricate rhythms and soaring melodies with constant skill. Equally, the acting does justice to the script. Creighton faculty Bill Van Deest and Mark Krejci have designed imaginative, inventive scenery. Adding to these wonders is the fascinating shimmer and glow of the second act’s Chromolume designed and constructed by Creighton senior Victoria Vitola and Omaha Clayworks co-founder, UNO grad Daniel Toberer.
Unquestionably, Sondheim and Lapine have made marvelous musical theatre, in this brilliant look at the creative process. But this is no museum lecture. What they have done constantly impresses with appealing form and symmetry, harmony and humor.
The book dwells on the fresh conceptions of two men of their times. On display are an imaginary portrait of the innovative French painter and of fictional, present day, great-grandson George, who devises art installations. The first is shown as a man with obsessive attention to details as he continues work on new ideas on canvas. His intense focus affects his relationship with his girl-friend Dot, who, in effect, remains peripherally significant. The other George starts to look beyond the narrow confines of a gallery-centered world to look inside himself, stimulated by his grandmother Marie, Dot’s daughter.
There are many pointed cross-references in the script. Modern George’s newest creation, Chromolume #7, has been commissioned to celebrate the color and light of Seurat’s “ A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” the famous painting around which the first act revolves. George also gives a talk about his great-grandfather’s work, while Marie looks on. Eventually Lapine has George, while on La Grande Jatte, encounter Dot who may even inspire the young American to continue what he’s doing. (FYI: When founding his revolutionary way of using dots of colors, Seurat called it “chromoluminarism.” )
There are many other subtle cross-references in the words and in the score, too numerous to mention here. You’re bound to enjoy them when you discover them.
Dan Tracy as both Georges carries off all the numerous vocal challenges with consummate ability. Sondheim certainly wrote the kind of songs not to be taken casually with intricate patterns of lyrics and passages of unforgettable beauty. Tracy, rarely leaving the stage, makes all that sound easy. As for the acting by this 2011 Creighton theatre alum, he does exceptionally well in conveying the first George’s self-absorption. In the second act, his other George seems less well-defined. Alexia Lorch stands out with sweetness and truth as Marie, after having interpreted Dot with superb voice and charm, quite accomplished versatility. And Peter Nicholson comes across with polish and style as Seurat’s painter friend Jules.
There are 16 other people on stage, an ensemble with truly admirable vocal precision. Director Lane gets the most and the best from them. She has also found wonderful ways to make other points, including physical movements as rhythmic punctuations to match the score.
Near the end of it all, George says “I want to make things that count, things that will be new.” Sondheim and Lapine did that. So did Amy Lane and everyone else involved in this.
Sunday in the Park with George is at Lied Education Center for the Arts, Creighton University, 2500 California Plaza through Nov. 8. Fri. Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets $5-18. https://www.creighton.edu/publicrelations/newscenter/news/2015/october2015/october72015/sundaysintheparknr100715