Sunday In The Park With George
Can it be? As impossible as it is to conceive, the production of Sunday In The Park With George at West Coast Ensemble is the show's Los Angeles premiere. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fanciful take on painter Georges Seurat and the creation of his masterpiece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," is finally getting a Los Angeles opening nineteen years after its Broadway debut. And the opening it gets is not a huge lavish production in a thousand-plus seat venue, but a small-scale production at the relatively intimate West Coast Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
As an opportunity for audiences who only know Sunday through recordings to see it live, the production has a few things to recommend it - chief among them being that it is surprisingly well-sung. Leading the vocal charge is Dana Reynolds as Seurat's model and mistress, Dot. At times, Reynolds seems to be trying too hard to copy Bernadette Peters' performance, to the point of adopting Peters' slightly nasal sound when she whines about the way George is treating her. But Reynolds' vocal power and facility with the score cannot be denied. She flies through the more wordy passages of the opening song confidently, even staying a fraction of a second ahead of the orchestra. The result is a Dot who is genuinely singing what she means, rather than an actress who is trying to keep up.
Stef Tovar as George is weaker in comparison. He successfully navigates the tongue-twisting minefield of "Putting It Together," but he seems just slightly uncomfortable with the song's pacing. He also misses some of the staccato syllables in "Color and Light." Tovar's singing is generally competent; he certainly isn't completely at sea with any of the material. But if his mastery of the tempos were just a little bit better, he could immerse himself much more in his character and devote more attention to delivering the meaning in the songs, rather than just their words.
The ensemble is quite strong vocally. The fifteen-member company harmonizes beautifully on "Sunday," and the power of that many voices together in a small theatrical space has the desired effect. The six-member orchestra provides adequate accompaniment; at no point does the music sound too small or hollow for the score. The show just sounds great.
Unfortunately, that's about all that it does. The two leads are the only performers who even try to create characters. Director Calvin Remsberg has directed the ensemble to overact; each person in the park turns in a fake performance that aims for cheap laughs. (It occasionally gets them; "The French are so placid," went over particularly well.) Thomas Buderwitz's set effectively creates the Island of La Grande Jatte which will ultimately form the background of Seurat's painting. Shon LeBlanc's costumes, however, are a disappointment. The costumes for a production of Sunday are limited to some degree by the images in Seurat's painting, but LeBlanc seemed only partially constrained, putting Dot in a dress that bears no resemblance to the dress seen on the woman in the painting. The result does serious harm to the final image of act one, when the characters are arranged into the poses of Seurat's famous work - and the disparity between Dot's dress and the one in the painting is apparent. The remainder of the costumes, while bearing some similarity to those in the painting, look to be made of the cheapest of satins, and stand out as not being of the same quality as the set. Mention must also be made of Stef Tovar's obviously glued-on facial hair, which does little to add to the plausibility of his character.
Much can be said about the meaning of this Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about the art of making art. Very little of it is on display here. This Los Angeles premiere production certainly isn't risky or innovative; it aims to be a straightforward recreation of the original, but on a smaller scale and with a tighter budget. It sounds terrific, doesn't look nearly as good as it sounds, and doesn't have very much inside.
Sunday In The Park With George runs through May 4 at West Coast Ensemble. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 3:00. Tickets are $35. For tickets, call (323) 525-0022. www.wcensemble.org area.
West Coast Ensemble, under the Artistic Direction of Les Hanson, Presents Sunday In The Park With George, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by James Lapine. Directed by Calvin Remsberg; Musical Direction by Allen Everman II. Assistant Director Suzanne Doss; Producers for WCE Richard Israel and Suzanne Doss; Associate Producer David Kaufman; Stage Manager Crystal Jackson; Set Design Tom Buderwitz; Lighting Design Elizabeth Stillwell; Costume Design Shon LeBlanc; Hair & Wig Design Anthony Wilson; Marketing/Publicity David Elzer/DEMAND PR.