Sunday at the Rep with George

22 Jan

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ first production for 2012 is Stephen Sondheim’s meditation on creativity, Sunday in the Park With George. The winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Sunday takes its inspiration — and the characters for its first act — from the seminal pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.

Act One tells of the tumultuous relationship between Georges and his mistress, Dot, a model who struggles with Georges’ inability to connect with anyone or anything other than the canvas he is working on. In fact, all of the people who Georges encounters are, wittingly or unwittingly, models for characters in the painting, as Georges lives entirely through his work.

Act Two follows Georges’ grandson, George, as he engages in the opposite struggle; George, an inventor-cum-sculptor, has entered a creative rut, successfully schmoozing investors to pay for his art but unable to tap into anything new. A trip to La Grande Jatte to celebrate the anniversary of his grandfather’s work leads George to an unexpected encounter and brings the show full circle.

As Georges/George, Ron Bohmer displays a good singing voice and is convincingly likable as George, but maybe not quite brooding enough as Georges. A little more brusqueness might be more nice, but he’s still effective as he weighs his inability to balance his art and his life in “Finishing the Hat”. As Dot, Erin Davie is suitably headstrong and delightful as she dreams of being a Follies girl in “Color and Light” or struggles to concentrate through the sweat in the title song. Together, their duets on the first act’s “We Do Not Belong Together” and its second act echo “Move On” are heart rending and soaring.

The supporting cast is equally up to their tasks, including St. Louis theater mainstay Zoe Vonder Haar as Georges’ Mother and Chris Hietikko as Jules, a rival painter to Georges. The end of Act One is one of the most glorious moments in modern theater, and this version was as effective as any I’ve seen.

The book by James Lapine is solid in the first act, but slighter in the second. The music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim bridge the atonality of Sweeney Todd and the more accessible melodies of Into the Woods, with the lyrical intricacies that have been hallmarks of Sondheim’s work. Though the orchestra occasionally overpowered the actors’ singing, on the whole a nice balance is achieved.

Sunday in the Park with George is one of my favorite musicals. I’ve seen it performed a few hundred feet from where the original painting now hangs (in the Art Institute of Chicago), and a framed print sits on my dresser, inspired more by a love of the musical than a love of the painting (though I do appreciate the painting as well). I am comfortable saying that, while the Rep production does not supplant the original Broadway version in my heart, it is a worthy companion.


(Note: While I strongly endorse live theater at every turn, if you can’t make it to the Rep, the original Broadway version is available for purchase or digital rental or purchase at


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