Sunday, September 2, 2012

On Sunday, My Thoughts Turn to "Sunday," Coming Soon to Chicago Shakes

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's Associate Artistic Director, Gary Griffin, has made a cottage industry of directing Sondheim shows at Chicago Shakes, with much acclaimed productions of "Follies" last year and "Pacific Overtures" and "Sunday in the Park with George" before that, upstairs in the smaller theater.

Griffin and Sondheim will be back in business later this month, with a new "Sunday in the Park with George" in the larger Courtyard Theatre at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. Given how wonderful Griffin's black-box production was back in 2002, this one on the main stage is eagerly anticipated. Tickets are on sale now and likely to go fast, if the "Follies" pattern is repeated.

"Sunday in the Park with George" is a natural for Chicago audiences, given that the painting ("A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," seen below) which serves as inspiration for the Sondheim/Lapine musical hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago. You can (and should) check out the painting and the musical in the same trip. Seurat worked in tiny dots of color in a technique called "pointilism," which informs the style and themes of "Sunday in the Park with George."

The cast for this production includes Broadway star Jason Danieley (once noted for having "the most exquisite tenor on Broadway" by Ben Brantley of the New York Times) as artist Georges Seurat, and Carmen Cusack, probably best known for playing Elphaba in the touring production of "Wicked" that came through Chicago, as Dot, Seurat's model and muse.

Others in the cast include Chicago favorites Sean Fortunato, Kevin Gudahl and Heidi Kettenring. And Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theatre Arts has informed us that Sarah Bockel, who graduated from their Musical Theatre program in 2010, is also part of the ensemble as an understudy for several roles, including those played by Elizabeth Lanza, herself an IWU alum from 2007.

"Sunday in the Park with George" happens to be the second show I saw on Broadway, and I have fond memories of it and my own reaction to it. If you are involved in any kind of artistic endeavor, its messages about art, the creative process, color and light, the fleeting nature of life, putting the pieces of one's life and work together, and ultimately moving on, can be very moving and profound.

People strolling through the trees
of a small suburban park
on an island in the river
on an ordinary Sunday


  1. Jason Danieley is a WONDERFUL choice for George. The part is a killer because you need a "real" actor, someone you would cast in a straight play, and also a "real" singer with an exceptional voice of tenor range and quality. Danieley has all those attributes; I don't think they could have done better.

    The Georges I've seen: the first, Mandy Patinkin, and despite how he has come to irritate me since then, I still think he was superb in the part (and the DVD proves it); his replacement Harry Groener, who did an admirable job despite being deprived of his dancing in this show; Sal Viviano (opposite his wife Liz Larsen) at Arena Stage DC, who seemed fine but of whom I can remember little; Daniel Evans in the Roundabout transfer of the London revival, which was memorable mostly for its up-to-date animation and computer-graphics magic; Jeffrey Coon at the Arden Theatre Philadelphia, capable but more on the singer side of the equation than actor. And Raul Esparza at the Kennedy Center, whom I recall as the best of all Act II Georges -- a vivid, complicated contemporary artist.

    How funny to to recall my reaction after first seeing it (in previews), that after that first production closed, nobody would ever do it again because it was so special and esoteric. I'm delighted to have been so wrong on all counts.

  2. I liked it but didn't love it after that Broadway experience (it was Harry Groener by the time I saw it, by the way, and he was terrific), but I was very much impressed with the way the show fit together in terms of design elements and the themes of the show. I thought the second act was unworkable, and if you'd asked me, I'd have agreed that it wasn't going to go anywhere because of that.

    But over the years, "Move On" has really resonated for me, and the way "Sunday" was used in "Sondheim on Sondheim" was a really transcendent moment. I'm choked up just thinking about it. So much there about living completely in a moment of beauty and holding it close to your heart.

    Although I'm still not sure I'm down with chromolunes. It's not even so much that they are usually something silly in the show as produced; it's that Georges and Dot are compelling and real, and it's like we've abandoned them for their modern, less interesting and more superficial counterparts.

    So, Jon, are you going to come back to see Jason Danieley?

  3. I wish. No, I can't justify the trip. But I know I'll be missing something special.

  4. Will you go to see Ed Asner on Broadway for me? That's the one where I know I'll be missing something special. Not so much the play ("Grace") but just to see my beloved Ed Asner.

  5. Hm. "Grace," we are told, "examines those elusive paradoxes: Believing vs. Knowing, Love vs. Loyalty, Coincidence vs. Fate." A chain of gospel-themed motels in Florida, planned by young couple Paul Rudd (whom I've seen onstage, as Orsino in that lovely "Twelfth Night") and Kate Arrington (a Steppenwolf member), and Michael Shannon (in addition to his many credits, he's "with" Arrington) as a rocket scientist and Ed Asner as a pest-control guy. Well, maybe. But I'm worried that I'll find I'd prefer to remember him as he used to be.

    The cast that's intriguing me, I'm afraid, is "The Performers," a new comedy in which friends reconnect at the Adult Film Awards, and as the press release tells us "The combination of sex, love, and Barry Manilow come together to provide a comedic take on the highs and lows of love." The friends are Cheyenne Jackson and Daniel Breaker, and also in the cast are Alicia Silverstone and Henry Winkler.

  6. "Grace" played at Northlight outside Chicago in something like 2006, with Michael Shannon in the same role and the legendary Mike Nussbaum as the character Ed Asner is playing on Broadway.

    Some side notes on the cast: Arrington was in the recent "Iceman Cometh" at the Goodman and "Detroit" opposite Laurie Metcalf at Steppenwolf, and she was also at last year's Humana Festival in the Courtney Baron play, "Eat Your Heart Out," in which she was both very good and a dead ringer for young Sela Ward. At least to me. Nobody else commented on it. She is what you would call a prominent Chicago actress, even though she's also done a lot of work in New York, and Louisville and ladeda. I imagine the relationship with Shannon makes her profile even higher, given that his career has taken off like crazy within the last couple of years, what with "Boardwalk Empire" and the Oscar nom for "Revolutionary Road," and roles in big-budget movies, too.

    In Chicago, he is associated with Red Orchid Theatre, where he still acts and directs, even though he got Big.

    Shannon and Arrington have been a couple for quite a while and have a child together. So, anyway, they're both as prominent as it gets for actors in Chicago, and interesting choices for Broadway run, even if it seems odd that the play has been around for eight years or so and it's only now getting this production.

  7. It does seem odd, but I see that sort of thing happening. The Broadway run of "Clybourne Park" almost seemed like an afterthought, after all the publicity and productions it had previously.