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Illuminating a Blank Page: ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

February 24th, 2017 Comments off
The cast of 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole.”

These words embody the gauntlet thrown down before generations of artists. The opening line of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, Sunday in the Park with George, resonates deeply in the Broadway revival that christens the historic re-opening of the Hudson Theatre.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George (both in Act One’s late 19th century setting and as George’s namesake great-grandson in Act Two, set in an American art museum in 1984) and Annaleigh Ashford as his muse Dot, and later, as George’s maternal grandmother, Marie, Sunday in the Park with George remains one of writing team’s most iconic works. More than 30 years since it debuted at Playwrights Horizons and countless productions worldwide, the musical strikes a resonating chord—both in terms of its exploration of the creative (and often obsessive) process of making art, as well as the personal relationships that can crumble in its wake.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Inspired by George Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Sondheim used the artist’s technique, later named Pointillism, as a musical springboard to create the score. It is filled with staccato punctuations (further accentuated by Gyllenhaal’s delivery) and contrasting lush melodies, which encapsulates the sum on the parts. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations and music direction by Chris Fenwick beautifully capture Sondheim’s work as delivered by a stellar cast of Broadway veterans.

Seurat died at the age of 31 and, at least according to the script, never sold a painting in his lifetime. The tragedy of his artistic tenacity and a world not quite ready to accept his creative gifts is the stuff that great musicals are forged from and it’s no surprise that Sunday in the Park with George won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Director Sarna Lapine mines the material for its wealth of treasures, shedding new light and nuance.

There is a purposefully broken current of electricity between George and Dot, interrupted by his nearly manic artistic pursuits. Gyllenhaal leans heavily into this neurosis, but unlike so many film actors that have stumbled onstage before him, he embodies George’s physical precision all the way through the tip of his imaginary paintbrush. Ashford approaches Dot with flirty mischief. Beautiful as she is, she is able to convince us that she’s less than society’s norms, uneducated and increasingly curvy as she carries George’s bastard child. A Tony Award winner for You Can’t Take it With You and nominee for Kinky Boots, Ashford is adept at interpreting lyrics and Sondheim gives her a full sandbox to play in. Gyllenhaal, too, is not afraid to approach the score with riveting intensity.

Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sunday in the Park with George.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Casting directors Carrie Gardner and Stephen Kopel have assembled a top-notch ensemble to support Gyllenhaal and Ashford, including Penny Fuller as George’s mother (Old Lady) in Act One and Blair, an art critic, in Act 2; and Robert Sean Leonard as Jules, a successful artist in Act One, and Bob Greenberg, a museum director in Act 2. Other recognizable faces include Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I, Here Lies Love), Brooks Ashmanskas (Bullets Over Broadway) and Jenni Barber (Wicked, Annie).

Act 2, which has often been problematic in past productions, jumps to 1984, where George (Dot’s great-grandson) is struggling with creative blocks after years of success with a series of Chromolume art installations (one of which is brilliantly conceived by lighting designer Ken Billington for a show-stopping moment). Ashford, now in a wheelchair as the aging Marie, captivates with a Charleston drawl that imbues her reflective “Children and Art” with a bluesy, languid warmth that will bring tears to your eyes.

This production of Sunday in the Park with George found footing last year as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series. Its physical presence still feels lean, with a simple set by Beowulf Boritt and projections designed by Tal Yarden. Costume designer Clint Ramos opts for a plain Pantone palette and one wishes Seurat himself could have gotten his hands on the designs to offer as much depth as the production warrants.

For anyone that has questioned the value of his or her creative expression, Sunday in the Park with George will hit a raw nerve. Like Seurat’s masterful paintings, the musical’s beauty is in its ever-changing perspective. “Order. Design. Tension. Balance. Harmony,” says George before the show’s resounding end. On the page, these words appear so simple. But it takes masters like Sondheim and Lapine to bring them to life.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street, NYC
Through April 23

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

‘Sunday in the Park with George’ Announces Full Cast

January 24th, 2017 Comments off

sunday in the park with george

Ambassador Theatre Group (Mark Cornell, CEO; Adam Speers, Executive Producer) has announced the complete casting and creative team for the Broadway revival of New York City Center’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George.

Sondheim and Lapine’s masterpiece follows painter Georges Seurat (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot (Annaleigh Ashford), not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (in his Broadway musical debut) and Tony Award winner  Annaleigh Ashford will be joined by Tony Award nominee Brooks Ashmanskas, Jenni Barber,Tony Award nominee Phillip Boykin, Mattea Marie Conforti, Erin Davie, Claybourne Elder, Tony Award nominee Penny Fuller,Jordan Gelber, Tony Award winner Robert Sean Leonard, Liz McCartney, Tony Award winner Ruthie Ann Miles, Ashley Park, Jennifer Sanchez, David Turner, Max Chernin, MaryAnn Hu, Tony Award nominee Michael McElroy, Jaime Rosenstein, Julie Foldesi, and Andrew Kober.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

As previously announced, Sunday in the Park with George will re-open the historic Hudson Theatre (139-141 West 44th Street) on Broadway this winter for a strictly limited 10-week engagement.  Directed by Sarna Lapine, performances are set to begin Saturday, February 11, 2017, with an opening scheduled for February 23 and performances through April 23.

The creative team for Sunday in the Park with George features set design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt, projection design byTal Yarden, costume design by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos, lighting design by Tony Award winner Ken Billington, sound design by Tony Award nominee Kai Harada, co-projection design by Christopher Ash, hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan, make-up design by Joe Dulude II, music coordination by Tony Honor recipient Seymour Red Press, orchestrations by 2-time Tony Award winner Michael Starobin, production supervision by Tony honor recipient Peter Lawrence, casting by Carrie Gardner/Stephen Kopel, technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates, general management by 101 Productions, Ltd., musical staging by Ann Yee, and music direction by Chris Fenwick.

Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.TheHudsonBroadway.com, by calling 855-801-5876, or in person at the Hudson Theatre Box Office.

 

New Year’s Eve at Feinstein’s/54 Below

December 28th, 2016 Comments off

54 Below

Are you looking for last-minute New Year’s Eve entertainment? Celebrate the arrival of 2017 at Feinstein’s/54 Below as two stars return to usher in the new year! Two-time MAC Award winner, Tony nominee, and drag legend Charles Busch will bring laughs and glamour to the 7 p.m. show. After a sold out New Year’s Eve show last year, Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford, once again accompanied by Will Van Dyke and the Whiskey 5,will conjure New Year’s Magic! at11p.m. A dance party to celebrate the New Year will follow the performance.

Charles Busch brings to Feinstein’s/54 Below an eclectic program of songs both contemporary and from the past. New York Times critic Stephen Holden wrote, “He has the gift of comic gab like few other entertainers. Innately funny, endearing and acutely intelligent, he also has claws. For an audience, the possibility of being scratched, although remote, lends his humor a bracing edge.” Accompanied by his dashing longtime musical director Tom Judson, Busch combines hilarious personal reminiscence, character sketches and superb storytelling through song into one glittering and glamorous evening in cabaret.

Come ring in 2017 with an eclectic mix of songs, stories, some sort-of impressive magic tricks, and an appearance made by a rainbow. Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford (Sylvia, You Can’t Take It With You, Kinky Boots, Showtime’s Masters of Sex) and music director Will Van Dyke reprise some of their Lost In The Stars favorites as well as debut some new tunes to celebrate this past year. Get your midnight kiss in one of the swankiest rooms in New York during a night that’s sure to be one of laughter, love, looking back, and looking forward.

Cover charges for the 7pm show range from $75-$140 with a $45 food and beverage minimum. Cover charges for the 11pm show range from $325-$495 which includes a two-course prix fixe dinner, dessert buffet, open bar, tax, and gratuity. Premium and Ringside seats include a half bottle of Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne for each party of two and an individual dessert platter during the dance party.

www.54below.com

 

‘Sunday in the Park with George’ Returns to Broadway… Again

December 13th, 2016 Comments off

sunday in the park with george

Ambassador Theatre Group (Mark Cornell, CEO; Adam Speers, Executive Producer) has announced that the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, starring Academy Award nominee Jake

Gyllenhaal and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford will re-open the historic Hudson Theatre (139-141 West 44th Street) on Broadway this winter for a strictly limited 10-week engagement. Performances are set to begin Saturday, February 11, 2017, ahead of a Thursday, February 23 Opening Night, and will play through Sunday, April 23.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Photo: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com)

“We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming audiences back to the historic Hudson Theater for the first time in almost 50 years with this musical classic,” said Mark Cornell, Ambassador Theatre Group’s Chief Executive Officer. “Direct from its acclaimed New York City Center production, Sondheim and Lapine’s masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George, starring Jake and Annaleigh, is the perfect inaugural offering for this Broadway treasure box. To be re-opening our most intimate of New York venues with this special work makes me excited about the future of the Hudson.”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, who both earned unanimous raves for their portrayals, will return to their roles, and will mark the second major Broadway revival of Sondheim and Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Reviewing the critically acclaimed New York City Center concert production of Sunday in the Park with George, Ben Brantley of the New York Times proclaimed it as “Joyous! This is one of those shows that seems destined to be forever spoken of with misty-eyed bragging rights by anyone who sees it.”

Annaleigh Ashford (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

Annaleigh Ashford (Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

“Opening the historic Hudson Theatre with this magnificent show, for me, is about the possibilities – a blank page, the white canvas, a new era for a theater and the great work to come,” said Jeanine Tesori, New York City Center Artistic Advisor and producer of the NYCC concert production.  “Together, Jake and Annaleigh broke my heart wide open. I am so happy we will be able to see them on stage again.”

Sondheim and Lapine’s masterpiece follows painter Georges Seurat (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot (Annaleigh Ashford), not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.

With music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George is directed by Sarna Lapine. Sunday in the Park with George is produced on Broadway by Adam Speers for Ambassador Theatre Group, New York City Center, Jeanine Tesori, and Riva Marker.

Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.thehudsonbroadway.com or by calling 855-801-5876.

 

Review: ‘Sylvia’ on Broadway

November 7th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

sylvia on broadwayWe all know people who relate to dogs as if they were people, and how, to the non-canine obsessed such behavior can be maddening. Something like this is depicted in A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, now being revived under Daniel Sullivan’s crisp direction at the Cort Theatre. Sylvia may be a play for grownups but it’s built around a childlike premise.

The grownup part concerns Greg (Matthew Broderick), who’s going through a midlife crisis, falls for a stray dog named Sylvia, and springs it on his unsuspecting wife, Kate (Julie White), when he brings it home to his apartment overlooking Central Park. Kate wants no part of Sylvia, not because she hates dogs but because now that the kids are off to college, she craves the chance to savor her freedom and her work teaching Shakespeare to inner city teens. Greg, though, is depressed about his meaningless job and needs something exciting to jolt him back to life. To keep Sylvia or not to keep, that is the question.

The childlike part is that Sylvia is played by an adorable, kneepad-wearing actress (Annaleigh Ashford) dressed in casually sexy clothes, her blonde hair in floppy pigtails suggesting doggy ears; she’s also able to talk—separately—with Greg and Kate (she goes “Hey, hey, hey” for barks). She romps around, sheds on the furniture, rubs her itchy butt on the floor, goes into heat, shouts filthy insults at a cat, pees behind an armchair, rolls over on command, and doggedly does all those doggy things we expect. Many men wanted to put a leash on Sarah Jessica Parker when she created the role in the 1995 Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off Broadway production, and many more will feel the same about the delectably hilarious Ashford (a Tony winner for You Can’t Take It with You).

Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford in 'Sylvia' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford in ‘Sylvia’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Amiable as much of Sylvia is, it never goes much beyond its one-joke conceit, even with its scenes featuring three secondary characters played by Robert Sella: these are Tom, whose “studly” dog hooks up with Sylvia when Greg brings her to the park; Phyllis, a wealthy friend of Kate’s, whose crotch smell Sylvia can’t get enough of; and Leslie, a therapist of indeterminate gender who advises Greg when his Sylvia mania gets out of hand. Sella gets applause, but he’s so campy that even Sylvia looks believable by comparison.

Annaleigh Ashford in 'Sylvia' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Annaleigh Ashford in ‘Sylvia’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

David Rockwell’s pretty set combines a background of Central Park, with its familiar apartment house skyline, a flown-in wall with a huge window for Greg and Kate’s apartment (which suggests they’re far wealthier than the dialogue indicates), and a roll-on insert for the therapist’s office. Ann Roth’s costumes for Sylvia are appropriately cute, and Japhy Weideman’s lighting offers suitably atmospheric touches.

Ashford’s lovable, mischievous bitch (in both senses of the word) is the chief reason to see Sylvia, although White is wonderfully honest and comic. Broderick, however, floats along on a single, rather monotonous note of colorless abstraction. A highlight, though, is when all three join in a rendition of Cole Porter’s “Every Time You Say Goodbye.” If only the play were as sturdy as Porter’s tune.

Sylvia
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street, NYC
Open-ended run.

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

A ‘Pawsome’ Deal For Broadway’s ‘Sylvia’

August 25th, 2015 Comments off

sylvia on broadwayThe box office of the Cort Theatre (138 W. 48th Street) will go to the dogs on Friday, August 28, 2015, when it opens for business for A.R. Gurney’s comedy Sylvia.

Has your pet changed your life? Have you ever wondered what she’s thinking when she stares up at you and tilts her head? Could she have the secret to understanding the world at large and your place in it? Or is she just more interested in how your shoe tastes? The world of a New York couple in mid-life is turned topsy-turvy when the husband brings home an exceptionally engaging canine running loose in Central Park in the hilarious and heartwarming comedy, Sylvia.

From two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee A. R. Gurney (The Dining Room, Love Letters), Sylvia takes a wonderful look into the complexities of love and commitment asks what it truly means to be devoted to your partner…and how do you choose between the love of your life and man’s best friend?

In celebration of Sylvia coming to Broadway for the first time since its MTC debut in 1995 patrons who go to the box office 10am-12pm EST will be able to purchase tickets for preview performances for only $19.95 each. Limit two per person.

In addition, the first 100 people to bring their dog to the box office that day will receive a limited edition Sylvia themed waste pick-up dispenser.

Matthew Broderick (photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock.com)

Matthew Broderick (photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock.com)

Sylvia stars Tony Award-winner Matthew Broderick (Brighton Beach Memoirs, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), Tony Award-winner Julie White (The Little Dog Laughed, Airline Highway), Drama Desk Award-winner Robert Sella (Stuff Happens), and Tony Award-winner Annaleigh Ashford (You Can’t Take It With You, Kinky Boots). Tony Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan (Proof) will direct.

Performances will begin on Friday, October 2, 2015, and will hold its official opening night on Tuesday, October 27, 2015. Tickets for Sylvia are available for purchase online at www.telecharge.com, by calling (212) 239-6200, or by going to the box office of the Cort Theatre starting Friday, August 28, 2015.