“Sunday In The Park With George” Is Truly A Stunner- A Musical Miracle That Explodes On Stage

The wonder that is Stephen Sondheim is on display in its purest form at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and their New Year’s present to our town, “Sunday In The Park With George.” Visually and vocally, it is in a class by itself and the stage pictures that emerge one after the other keep you mesmerized while listening to an excellent cast bring that soaring score to life.

Ron Bohmer and Erin Davie in "Sunday In The Park With George." photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Ron Bohmer, a graduate of the Webster Conservatory Theatre Arts, returns to the Rep stage with a magnificent portrayal of artist George Seurat and then his fictitious great grandson, George. His strong voice brings the Sondheim music and lyrics to life and his performance as the driven artist is right on the mark. Erin Davie also gives a beautiful portrayal of his neglected girlfriend- here referred to as “Dot,” and then her daughter Marie.

Countless others- a cast of nineteen- work as a unit under the superb direction of Rep favorite, Rob Ruggiero. He not only creates gorgeous stage pictures, he creates tension with and within the characters as he holds true to Seraut’s fascination with pointillism and creating form, color, light, unity, harmony and multiple other aspects to bring his paintings vividly to life. Although more ridiculed than respected in his own lifetime, his method and particularly his masterpiece, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” have become the template for an art form renowned throughout the world.

The cast of "Sunday In The Park With George." photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“Sunday In The Park With George” still has a problematic second act and I believe it’s due to the fact that the show was originally written as a long, one-act musical. How can you improve on the moving first act finale where the historic painting comes dramatically to life with the characters you’ve met throughout the show? With a fictitious story about the great grandson and his struggles to find himself as an artist in a more contemporary medium amid an artistic scene more focused on commercialism, it falls flat compared to the majesty of the opening act.

The only problem with losing the second act, however, is you lose the power of Sondheim’s “Putting It Together,” “Children and Art” and the haunting, “Move On.” So, though most composer/lyricists would be envious of such a second act, it never has worked well within the context of the entire show. The strong script of James Lapine continues to work wonders, though, with the delightful parry and thrust of the characters in Act One and the strong, although sadder, messages brought forth in the second.

Local and Rep favorites dazzle on stage along with members of the current students in Webster’s distinguished conservatory. Zoe Vonder Haar and Kari Ely are precious as George’s mother and her nurse. Whit Reichert and Rebecca Watson score an obnoxious American couple and Chris Hietikko shines as George’s patron and rival in the art world. The entire cast is superb as they blend like a well-oiled unit to move about the canvas- each one bringing a personality and a life to characters that we will never see the same way again should we be lucky enough to see the actual painting, how hanging in the Art Institute in Chicago, or reproduced in any of the multiple art books and other venues it has popped up in throughout the years.

Zoe Vonder Haar, Ron Bohmer and Erin Davie in the Rep's "Sunday In The Park With George." Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

And, of course, we would be remiss without crediting the spectacular technical team that brought this masterpiece to the stage including scenic designer Adrian W. Jones, lighting designer John Lasiter and the costumes of Alejo Vietti. A nod as well to musical director F. Wade Russo for bringing the amazing Sondheim score to life and choreographer Ralph Perkins who, together with director Rob Ruggiero, gave us such magnificent moments- almost snapshot by snapshot- on stage.

Suffice to say, you do not want to miss “Sunday In The Park With George.” Easily one of the most visually stunning plays ever on the Rep stage and perhaps one of the best things you’ll see on stage in St. Louis for 2012. Hey, it’s early, but it’s also going to be hard to beat this one. Catch Sondheim’s masterpiece on the stage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through January 29th. Call the box office at 314-968-4925 for the hottest ticket in town or visit http://www.repstl.org

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