Upon first setting foot into the newly restored Hudson Theatre on West 44th Street in New York City, I was immediately consumed by color. Refractions of red, blue, white and green splashed across my face with such intensity that it would have been nearly impossible to miss the dizzying neon sign. Of course, it would have been a shame not to witness the spectacular installation that loomed in the theatre’s lobby, as it displayed some of the most vital lyrics “Sunday in the Park With George” has:
“Anything you do, let it come from you. Then it will be new.”
A Production That’s No ‘Ordinary Sunday’
Dubbed as an iconic work of musical theatre, “Sunday in the Park With George” was certainly “new” at the Hudson Theatre. While the marvelous Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine masterpiece is set in the 19th century, the sentiment rang present in the Sarna Lapine-led revival (yes, she is related to James).
As the show opened, Jake Gyllenhaal pierced through the bare stage, which was quite literally a blank canvas, as the obsessive George Seurat. In contrast, Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford sauntered into the spotlight, breathing an unparalleled luminosity into her portrayal of Dot. Together, as George and Dot are meant to be, Gyllenhaal and Ashford spun a magic that spoke to the vitality of art.
The majority of thespians know that, like George Seurat’s work, the concept of this show was not primarily swallowed by the masses. As far as shows go, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is a bit abstract. However, with the veteran team that brought the recent revival to life, “Sunday in the Park With George” can more easily appeal to the inner artist in everyone. Audiences can relate to the struggle of following a dream and the love and joy that comes along with the journey. The show is a prime example of a musical that lures audiences into a completely different world and uses that setting as a space to teach and explore. The main subject it educates on? The importance of art.
A Resonating Message in Hard Times
Although the musical is set in another century and was conceived in the 1980s, the message feels more critical now than ever before. In a society where government threatens the funding of the arts, this revival could not have come at a better time. Through artistic filter, the story showcases the unquestionable importance of art for humanity. Act 1, which stood on its own in the original Off-Broadway run of the show, primes Act 2 just as art prepares people for what happens in life.
As the show comes to an end, there is a wrenchingly beautiful exchange between George and Dot. Dot, who spent her life loving a man who was consumed by the love of his art, reveals what she learned from George: “You taught me about concentration. At first, I thought that meant just being still, but I was to understand it meant much more. You meant to tell me to be where I was, not some place in the past or future. I worried too much about tomorrow; I thought the world could be perfect. I was wrong.”
This dialogue, which exists as a form of art, is an example of how art can reach out and touch people. As George and Dot slip into the haunting duet, “Move On,” audiences are urged to live in the moment and keep going forward. George will go on to create more art, as Gyllenhaal will go on to make more movies and Ashford will continue to stun audiences with more Broadway performances. And one audience member will leave the theatre inspired to write something, anything, on how significant “Sunday in the Park With George” is.
After shaking the breathtaking show (and all its colors and lights) through a sifter, it’s not hard to see what Sondheim is saying: Art is a vehicle. It’s a vehicle for joy. For education. For grief. For inspiration. For growth. And above all, it’s important~