Breathtaking ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ Opens at CCAE Theatricals

“What the eye arranges is what is beautiful,” the acclaimed artist explains onstage. Leaving Sunday in the Park with George at CCAE’s Center Theatre, I was inclined to agree. A triumphant kick-off to 2023, this T.J. Dawson-helmed production is a work of art, much like the painting it embodies.

The cast is seen standing before a projected painting of Seurat's famous painting.

Cast of Sunday in the Park with George. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

Inspired by Seurat’s Neo-Impressionist work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, this Sondheim and Lapine musical introduces George as a young artist living in Paris. As he falls deeper and deeper into the employ of tiny dots of color to generate light and depth within his latest painting, George finds himself concurrently struggling to maintain a romance with his lover, Dot, and wrestling with the contrast between his desire to be accepted by the art community and his belief that he cannot “paint for (their) approval.” As his relationship falls apart (much to the distress of Dot, who is expecting), George finds himself unable to move past his obsession over the details in his painting: the hat, the tail of a dog, the arrangement of trees, and the placement of each person (Dot and newborn daughter Marie included) along the shore of the river. 

1884 Dot gestures to 1984 George.

Will Blum and Emily Lopez in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

As the second act unfolds, the audience learns that a century has passed. A new George, who is dedicating his own piece of art inspired by Seurat’s painting, is revealed as Marie’s grandson and the inventor of a series of light-emitting sculptures. It is clear that George loves his grandmother and loves art, but he struggles to find a purpose for it all… that is, until he looks to the past to understand the space where love, family, and art intersect.

Broadway veteran Will Blum, as George, is perfectly suited for the dual leads in Sunday in the Park… and is an incredible acquisition for the production. As 1884’s distant, obsessed artist who struggles to find balance between his professional and personal lives, Blum is alternately bright-eyed, intense, and gentle. Then, when stepping into George-of-1984’s shoes as an inventor/sculptor in search of fresh inspiration, he uncovers dueling moments of self-assurance and vulnerability that are endearing, relatable, and delightfully human. With a lustrous tenor and outstanding comedic timing, Blum delivers a nuanced performance that deserves full houses.

George paints while Dot gets ready to go out.

Will Blum and Emily Lopez in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

His counterpart, Emily Lopez, as Dot/Marie, is stellar as well. Her characters diverge strongly from one another and yet she masters these differences with ease, wearing the broken heart that comes with unrequited love, and then later reminiscing about the past. Lopez has an unexpected dark timbre to her voice that lends a solemnity to each of her songs and that blends beautifully with Blum’s during “We Do Not Belong Together” and in the 11th hour song,  “Move On,” which features a juxtaposition of past, present, and future.

The talented ensemble, alongside a 13-piece live orchestra, are well balanced and resonant, a testament to the work of music director Elan McMahan and sound designer Jon Fredette. The ensemble’s character work is impeccable throughout. I particularly love the Old Lady and art critic Blair Daniels (both played by Debbie Prutsman), Nurse (Bethany Slomka), Boatsman (DeAndre Simmons), and technician Dennis (Nicholous Bailey), and, while I am less enamored with the caricaturish way that Mr. and Mrs. are portrayed, in truth, all performers are outstanding. The cast for this production includes Tucker Boyes, Juan Danner, Catherine and Elizabeth Last (who split performances), Ethan Park, Liliana Rodriguez, Tori Stamm, Debra Wanger, Zanna Wyant, Elias Wygodny, Nikki Kelder, and Colden Lamb.

Jules and Yvonne inspect George's art.

Nicholous Bailey and Zanna Wyant in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

A significant portion of the story for Sunday in the Park with George depends on the way in which Seurat’s world is crafted in real time and, to this end, scenic designer George Gonzalez has set a beautiful scene. A simple angled platform up to the edge of a projection screen and flown-in trees are painted to emulate Seurat’s infamous pointillism (Brenda Townsend) and George’s apartment is cleverly designed to hearken back to the original Broadway set (Tony Straiges). A translucent projection of the unfinished artwork serves as a makeshift wall; on the other side, George navigates stairs to a platform where he can be seen painting facing the audience, while Dot prepares for an evening out at a dressing table below. Later, in the second act, the projection screens are lifted to reveal the large on-stage band, which has the desired effect of adding sparkle to the scene’s opening gala.

Dot poses while George draws.

Emily Lopez and Will Blum in Sunday in the Park with George. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

These sets are complemented by a lighting scheme that generates tension, reveals secret snippets of action, and is, on occasion, quietly intimate (Michelle Miles) and a wide range of projections including aforementioned Seurat painting and dramatic spinning Chromolume #7 effects (Patrick Gates). Janet Pitcher’s costumes include exquisite details, flounces, laces, and lush fabrics as well as edgy, contemporary designs for the 1984 art gallery opening, and Peter Herman’s hair and wig designs are flawless.

Sondheim works can be polarizing, perhaps… but this CCAE Theatricals iteration of Sunday in the Park with George will likely not be. This masterpiece, capturing the magic at the intersection of art, love, and family, is a must-see in its run through Mar. 5. 

View the program.

1 A B C D E G I J L M N O P Q R S T U W
Photo of California Center for the Arts, Escondido
California Center for the Arts, Escondido
340 North Escondido Boulevard Escondido CA 92025 Website: California Center for the Arts, Escondido
Categories: Dance, Music, Uncategorized
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