By Bob Evans
A nearly sold out opening night and a standing ovation welcomed “Sunday in the Park with George,” the Stephen Sondheim musical about the life and legacy of Impressionist painter, George Seurat at Olathe’s OCTA stage, Feb. 8 for a three
Sondheim’s vocally challenging piece, with book by James Lapine, creates the story behind the Seurat masterpiece, with a splendid casting from director Tiffany Coville-Schweigert and musical direction of Betsy Bledsoe. Musically, “Sunday in the Park with George,” probably Sondheim’s most challenging piece features a musical score that gives no hint of the melody and the vocalists need to be spot on, because pitch and melody do not assist them in any fashion. The OCTA orchestration expertly provides the score for the talented vocalists to perform for the audience. The combination is tricky and powerful.
“A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities. A moving study of the enigmatic artist Georges Seurat and his famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” OCTA said. “This stunning musical merges past and present into beautiful and poignant truths about life, love, and the creation of art. Winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama and nominated for an astounding ten Tony Awards, this masterpiece by the legendary team of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine will inspire you long after you leave the theatre.”
For this show to work, a strong cast and solid orchestra need to merge–and it does with this production. Joel Morrison gives his best lead actor performance in a show that needs a strong George to carry the action and unite the two acts. Morrison is charming as the self-centered, drive-driven perfectionist of the artist. Morrison is harsh, charming, abrasive, reclusive, funny, and almost everything in between, except loving, sentimental, caring. He’s got his own dream and sees only the colors of the world of art.
Matching George, his love-interest, Dot, allows herself to love George and accept his attitude in hopes of breaking though to find a place in his heart. Dot’s devotion proves that love given freely and fully does not always return as anticipated. Victoria Strafuss, fairly new to the KC Metro stages, gives a tender yet strong Dot character to counter-balance Morrison’s abrasive George.
Morrison and Strafuss are the crux of the show and carry it well. Vocally, they are superior. Acting wise, Morrison pulls off a flexible, loose George while Strafuss balances with a stiffer, more dominant characterization of Dot. George represents the creative, flexible mind set. Dot represents the reality of life and pain of unfulfilled dreams. Beautiful chemistry between them makes the show touching.
The OCTA presentation features beautiful sound design and costumes. The minimal set-design works and the projection helps the audience see the process as art develops. The casting is strong. Schweigert’s casting always stands out. She finds the perfect person for each character and voice. As such, she fearlessly casts actors not always well-known if they fit her picture puzzle of the cast. Again, perfection in casting gives this piece unity. An ensemble cast, it’s hard to single out individuals. A few that did stand out on opening night, Joy Richardson, Michael Golliher, Kristen Alley, Julie Fox, Spencer Thompson,
The Cast is: George Seurat – Joel Morrison, Dot / Marie – Victoria Strafuss, Old Lady / Blair Daniels – Debbie Blinn, Nurse / Mrs. / Harriet Pawling – Julie Fox, Jules / Bob Greenberg – Scott Kruse, Yvonne / Naomi Eisen – Joy Richardson, Boatman / Billy Webster – Spencer Thompson, Franz / Dennis – Michael Golliher, Frieda / Betty – Kristen Alley, Soldier / Alex – Alec Bridges, Mr. / Charles Redmond – Chris Gleeson, Louis /Lee Randolph – Matt Runnells, Celeste #1 /
Elaine – Christina Casey, Celeste #2 / A Photographer – Nancy Seeman, Louise – Abby Morrison.
The Creative team is: Director – Tiffany Coville-Schweigert, Music Director – Betsy Bledsoe, Stage Manager – Nicole Brewer, Asst. Stage Manager – Amanda Tufano and Ran Anderson, Set designer – Doug Schroeder, Costumes Designer – Brenna McConaughey and Alison Nickel, Lighting Designer – Phil Leonard, Sound Designer – Josh Finch, Props Designer – Em Loper, Projections – Tom Eagle
The Orchestra is: Reed 1 – Ron Mundt, Reed – Jim Vinkenberg, Keyboard 1 – Matthew Fischer, Keyboard 2/Synthesizer – Deana Wagner, Percussion – John Gilmore, Violin 1 – Michael Turnbo,
Violin 2 – Emily Gooden, Kim Ico, Cello – Kieran Ojakangas.
“Sunday in the Park with George” continues weekends through Feb. 24. Tickets can be purchased online at the OCTA website, by phone, or in person at the box office prior to the show. Based on opening night attendance, some performances could be sold out. Please plan accordingly.
Tags: Olathe Civic Theatre Association, OCTA, Sunday in the Park with George review, Kansas City, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment