Inspired by French pointillist painter Georges Seurat’s painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, Sunday in the Park with George is a musical show with a combination of visual and theatrical elements. Originally directed and produced on Broadway by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the show was first performed in 1983; and MUSE have made it one of their leading productions back after an extended period of pandemic cancellations.
On stage at ARA Darling Quarter Theatre, the show was well attended at the scene. Despite some confusion due to construction in the area, I eventually found my way inside and was greeted by a unique and intimate space, a welcome surprise to find in the busy heart of Darling Harbour.
Taking place in a black box theatre, the musical began with the romantic story of the well-known artist George and his model and lover, Dot, creating an immersive atmosphere for its audience through minimalist staging. Though his lover Dot entered the scene in a lively, elaborate dress which she thought could attract George’s attention, the solemn painter remained thoroughly absorbed in the world of his painting. Ignoring Dot as a person and companion, he treated her as an inanimate object and muse to contribute to his art.
The rest of the musical connects the story of George and Dot with others’ affairs and emotional changes interconnected through disparate scenes. The misunderstandings, arguments, and altering moods among these characters were vividly displayed in the switching of background music and scenes. Remarkably, all the chaos displayed on the stage reflects George’s belief in “order, design, balance, tension, composition, light, and harmony”, which contributes to his final work of art where each character is united in a single scene and are ultimately immortalised as subjects of the play’s titular painting.
As noted by director Hannah Burton in the show’s programme, “The best way for us to get to the core of this show is to start at the end and work our way back, which is exactly what James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim did.” The end and the beginning of the performance resonate deeply with one another, bringing into focus the central question of the show – the balance of art and love.
Sunday in the Park with George was a magnificent performance mirroring the interlaced nature of art, love, and passion. The leading cast, particularly Hannah Stewart as Dot and Nic Savage as George, were astounding in the mastery of their respective roles, leaving a deep impression on everyone in the theatre both during and well after the performance, with the audience responding with cheers and roaring applause. This performance is one that the cast and crew can be deeply proud of, performed impressively and faithfully such that I’m sure it would have been cherished by Sondheim himself.
Sunday in the Park with George is currently showing at Darling Quarter Theatre until Saturday 20th August. Tickets are available here.