The 1984 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters’ Sunday in the Park with George melted me down. And now a new production at the Hudson Theatre, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George and Annaleigh Ashford as Dot/Mariem has opened to rave reviews.
It will run until 4.23, and if I had the surplus dough I would fly back to New York sometime in mid March to catch it. Experiencing the right kind of emotion and exaltation is all but priceless. You only live once, right? Cheers to Jake for reportedly nailing it — for the passion it took to invest himself 110% and enhance his vocal game, for allegedly matching Patinkin note for note and heartbeat for heartbeat.
From Ben Brantley’s N.Y. Times review: “Mr. Gyllenhaal translates the intensity that has characterized his most memorable screen appearances (including Brokeback Mountain and Nightcrawler) into a searing theatrical presence, in which his eyes are his center of gravity. He embodies one of Seurat’s favorite artistic dictums, ‘concentrate,’ with an unwavering focus that seems to consume and illuminate the dark.
“Mr. Gyllenhaal invests every note he sings with the rapt determination of someone trying to capture and pin down the elusive. Watch Seurat at work, dabbing specks of color on his canvas, and listen to the vigor (and rigor) with which he invests the repetition of those colors’ names.”
Beginning of Brantley’s review: “He is a thorny soul, a man neither happy nor particularly kind, and not someone you’d be likely to befriend. But when the 19th-century French painter Georges Seurat, reincarnated in the solitary flesh by a laser-focused Jake Gyllenhaal, demands that you look at the world as he does, it’s impossible not to fall in love.
“Or something deeper than love — closer to religious gratitude — is the sentiment you may experience in the finale that concludes the first act of the marvelous revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park With George, which opened on Thursday night at the newly restored Hudson Theater.
“We have watched a restless day of rest in the park of the title, where an assortment of flâneurs and poseurs have become steadily more fractious and discordant.
“But after the shouting and the frenzy, a breathtaking and infinitely consoling harmony descends, as a living painting is assembled out of a most inharmonious crowd. Though you’re feeling anything but sad, you realize there are tears on your cheeks, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical from the 1980s suddenly feels more incisive and urgent, even necessary, than ever.
“This tableau vivant — which mirrors the composition of Seurat’s most celebrated painting, ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,’ and is repeated at the end of the second act — doesn’t qualify as the usual happy ending found in musicals. That’s because the quiet ecstasy the scenes inspire has little to do with the lives of the show’s characters and everything to do with what outlives them.
“That, in a word, is art, which insists you look again at the muddle of the familiar and perceive the rhymes and patterns that you never noticed before. ‘Give us more to see,’ sings Seurat’s mistress, Dot, played by the luminous Annaleigh Ashford, in a plea filled with hunger and hope.
“At a moment when government arts subsidies are again under siege in the United States, Sunday in the Park With George, directed with blood-racing immediacy by Sarna Lapine, makes an emotionally irrefutable case for the importance of seeing through the awakening gaze of the artist.
“Not that this Sunday is in any way didactic or issue-driven. On the contrary, this interpretation comes across with more personal, in-the-moment intimacy than any I’ve seen, including the dazzling Broadway debut of 1984, which starred Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, directed by James Lapine (Ms. Lapine’s uncle, as it happens).”