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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Studio 54

By Matt Windman

  Daniel Evans, front, as Seurat/Ph: Sara Krulwich

Roundabout Theatre Company really ought to rename Studio 54 The Stephen Sondheim Theatre - or at least something like Studio Sondheim. Or even Sondheim 54.

The company's revival of Sunday in the Park with George follows their productions of Sondheim's Company, Follies, Assassins and Pacific Overtures. And word on the street is that Merrily We Roll Along is next on the list.

The quality of these revivals has been a mixed bag. While Assassins was perfect, the others disappointed. But Sunday in the Park, which is based directly on Sam Buntrock's London production, is nothing short of a triumph that is worthy of an extended run.

Inspired by the Georges Seurat painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette, Sunday begins by exploring the life and artistic rigor of its pointillist protagonist in 1884, who coldly ignores his loved ones to concentrate on his art. Or, as Sondheim puts it, he must finish the hat. Act Two, set in 1980s New York, looks at Georges' great grandson and his search for fulfillment in the world of contemporary art.

Buntrock, who is only 32 years old, has not radically reinterpreted the musical. Rather, what he brings is a new emphasis on computer-generated graphic imagery. As Act One goes along, the stage becomes covered in Seurat's sketches until it all morphs into the final painting by intermission. Unlike in the original production, there is now less of a disconnect visually between Acts One and Two.

Daniel Evans (Georges) and Jenna Russell (Dot), who won Olivier Awards in London, shun the starry, idiosyncratic touches of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, who originated their roles. Both deliver extremely sensitive, nuanced performances that allow Sunday, one of the most difficult musicals ever, to resonate emotionally like never before.

We can't help but wonder whether the film version of Sweeney Todd will encourage new theatergoers to check out other work by Sondheim. Even while Sunday is admittedly more static and challenging than Sweeney, it is a gripping, gorgeous and gratifying show showcasing some of the smartest writing in musical theater history.




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