Nobody tears anything in the very cerebral and brilliantly conceived revival of "Sunday in the Park With George" that has arrived on Broadway this spring by way of London. "Sunday in the Park" shares a lyricist (Stephen Sondheim, of course) with "Gypsy." But the two productions could not be more different in approach. If Laurents is going back to the show's roots, Sam Bunt- rock's new production of "Sunday in the Park" (first produced some 25 years ago) is like a meditation on musicals in the digital age. It is rather like watching a play about the creation of a painting taking place inside that very painting.
Broadway has been burned by such technology before — the hyper-realistic digitized journeys offered up in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White" induced not so much a deeper aesthetic experience as the kind of nausea you get on roller coasters. But the various designers involved in "Sunday" understood that restraint is the first theatrical requirement of someone with a hand on a mouse.
Moreover, "Sunday" is fundamentally about the neuroses of the artistic process —from the blank canvas to the politics of getting attention to the pain of the final critical judgment, typically rendered by a boob. This remarkable production not only explores the lives and times of those who modeled for Georges Seurat as he painted "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884" (which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago), but it also takes you inside, outside and even through the painters' canvas.
In terms of traditional musical values and staging, the show has its limitations, although it has two fine leads.
Evoking the sweat of a model and the fragility of a sensual woman, Jenna Russell's Dot is an entirely new take on the role. Daniel Evans' George is more in the standard palette in the first act. But after intermission, he taps perfectly into the artist's terror of both the old (which means repetition) and the new (which means a blank canvas).
You see images appear, get rubbed out, move around. Seurat was famous for his interest in color theory — and you could make a good case that Sondheim and his book writer James Lapine were actually creating an insouciant theatrical counterpoint to Seurat's experiments in using placement and color to trick the mind into seeing a personally harmonious whole. In other words, it feels as if you've never fully understood this show until now. And what else is there, really, to a "Sunday in the Park"?
"Sunday in the Park With George" plays at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St. Call 212-719.1300 or visit round abouttheatre.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times