“Sunday in the Park With George” – Theater Works

Theater Review – February 27, 2017


Theater Works, Gyder Theater, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

If one person pushed the American musical theater to abandon cutesy, romantic tales with hummable tunes, it’s Stephen Sondheim.  His diverse shows deal with real life situations peopled with complex characters surrounded by masterfully complex music.

The loveliest Sondheim show is his 1984 Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, and New York Drama Critics Award winner “Sunday in the Park With George” currently playing at Peoria’s Theater Works in a superlative production.  The show is an expose of Georges Seurat’s creation of his most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”  Through the show and its re-creation of the painting, audiences understand the artist’s characters and their relationships as the show provides fascinating insight into the work.

Melodically complex songs provide further background on the painting and the characters’ temperament so “Sunday in the Park With George” transforms the painting’s static image into a living work.  The musical’s first act deals with the painting’s creation while the second act flashes forward to Georges’ great-grandson as he creates new art forms.

Because the show is so complicated, it requires tremendous resources to present it well so the work is rarely produced.  Peoria’s Theater Works wasn’t afraid of the awesome challenge and its accomplished production is the commendable result.

Musical theater lovers and Sondheim fans shouldn’t miss director Phillip Fazio’s insightful staging in which the scenic and costume elements reasonably recreate the painting on stage.  Steve Hilderbrand’s musically impeccable orchestra plays the difficult score with beautiful precision.

A superlative cast of singer/actors deliver the complex characters in meticulous detail and provide artful singing.  Particularly notable is Joshua Vern’s exquisite Georges.  He creates an artist who has little concern for the people he paints.  Even his mistress, Dot, is slighted but she is played with great sincerity by Alanna Kalbfleisch.  A wealthy couple who flit on the edges of Seurat’s life are handled with haughty arrogance by Peter Cunniff as Jules and Debra M. Qualtire as Yvonne.  Christy Welty makes George’s mother a significant influence on her son.

While the visual elements are not as elaborate as the show’s original Broadway production that I saw twice, they do recreate the painting with clever simplicity as the still complicated sets move into and out of place with effortless mobility, a rare achievement for a small theater.

“Sunday in the Park With George” continues through March 5.  To order tickets, call the Theater Works box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: A