Sunday in the Park with George [1986]

Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1984 musical Sunday in the Park with George is a fictional representation of maverick French Impressionist painter Georges Seurat's efforts to create his masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte. Seurat, played by Mandy Patinkin, is obsessed with his work, to the frustration of his mistress, Dot (Bernadette Peters). Along the way, we meet many other characters--whoever happens to be in the park that Sunday--who eventually become part of the canvas. Act 2 fast-forwards 100 years. Patinkin now plays Seurat's great-grandson, George, himself a frustrated artist. (Peters plays his grandmother--Seurat and Dot's daughter.) In the score's best-known song, "Putting It Together," George (and Sondheim himself) explains the hazards of trying to create art while also confronting the reality of having to pay for it. In a search for inspiration, George travels to the original island where Seurat created the painting. As with Sondheim and cocreator James Lapine's next collaboration, Into the Woods, Sunday is often criticized for redirecting its focus in the second act instead of letting the first act stand by itself as a complete work. The second act, however, is the emotional core of the show, as George confronts all the feelings his great-grandfather had repressed so many years ago. Stephen Sondheim's brilliant score is remarkable for its combination of vivid colors (listen to his dots of sound that represent Seurat's pointillistic style of painting), character pieces, and sheer beauty. The cast is terrific, and the show, aced out of most of the 1984 Tony Awards by La Cage aux Folles, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Recorded before a live audience, Sunday is especially entertaining on video, as the staging elements bring out the full humor and inventiveness of the show, and it is astonishing to see the disparate characters form themselves into the elements of the familiar painting. So many great musicals are banished to the memories of those who attended live or--even worse--immortalized as inferior movies. Sunday in the Park with George is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in musical theatre, and a must-own for anyone with a passion for it. The DVD includes an audio track with commentary by Sondheim, Lapine, Patinkin, and Peters. --David Horiuchi

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