Thursday, October 11, 2012

Artistic Musical Masterpiece

music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
book by James Lapine

From 1884 to 1886 the French painter, Georges Seurat, devoted himself to painting his masterpiece, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte--1884.  He began with detailed studies of the site, recording the location of each tree and natural feature, and creating a pictorial landscape--a "set design" that he would complete with his human subjects.  In the park the artist sketched small studies, then returned to his studio to create his large canvas.  
"He put hundreds of thousands of dots on that canvas.  And every one was a separate decision.  Some people say there were five million individual decisions.  And that is what art is."  - Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon, Broadway: The American Musical (2004).

Almost a century after Seurat began his masterpiece, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine came together to collaborate on the composition of what would become Sunday in the Park with George.  The play opened on Broadway on May 2, 1984, with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the lead roles.  While it won only two Tony awards that year the following year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is considered one of Stephen Sondheim's masterpieces.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a performance of Sunday in the Park with George produced by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and directed by Gary Griffin.  It was a spectacular performance in all its aspects, from the cast, led by Jason Danieley as George and Carmen Cusack as his mistress Dot,  to the lighting, design and orchestra.  I especially enjoyed the duet "We Do Not Belong Together" by Dot and George, and the magnificent chorus entitled simply "Sunday" sung by the company.  Like all great music Sondheim's best work gets better with age and always yields more depth of meaning and beauty.  This production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater showed that once more.

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