Friday, February 22, 2008

Did Critics Offer Praise At New Sunday Revival?

Did Critics Offer Praise At New Sunday Revival?

Last evening, director Sam Buntrock's British import revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical Sunday In The Park With George opened at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54. The cast of the musical includes Daniel Evans as George/George, Jenna Russell as Dot/Marie, Michael Cumpsty, Jessica Molaskey, Mary Beth Peil, Ed Dixon, Anne L. Nathan and Alexander Gemignani.

After having earned five Olivier Awards exactly a year ago last Monday, were Broadway critics similarly impressed with the show? The answer is a qualified "yes."

Positively gushing in her four-star review, USA Today's Elysa Gardner lauds: "[Y]oung British director/animator Sam Buntrock has managed to use technology to enhance the bittersweet beauty of one of that era's most substantive musicals...The superb Daniel Evans makes clear the generational distinctions between the Georges while linking their obsessive, narcissistic tendencies, and making them sympathetic nonetheless. Jenna Russell, a sassy, sensual Dot, is funny, touching and completely convincing as the 98-year-old but still-wily Marie. Buntrock also culls lovely supporting performances from Michael Cumpsty, Jessica Molaskey, Mary Beth Peil and others."

Proclaiming the show "an experience to be savored," David Rooney of Variety sings Sunday's praises: "Daniel Evans brings moving intensity and a febrile punctiliousness that's almost painful to watch as both 19th-century French Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat and his great-grandson George, a contemporary American multimedia artist. As his aptly named mistress, Dot, and later as her elderly emigre daughter Marie, Jenna Russell is incandescent....From the first flashes of light that accompany Sondheim's opening chords -- as a charcoal stroke slashes the back wall of designer David Farley's ingenious blank-canvas, skewed-perspective set and details are rapidly sketched in by Timothy Bird's CGI projections -- there's an absolute assurance and thrilling synthesis of creative vision in evidence here."

Labeling this an "elegantly acted, directed and designed revival," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News is similarly enthused: "The excellent Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell reprise their West End roles. Evans brings fiery intensity to each George, but is never mannered. As Dot, Seurat's muse and mistress, and her daughter Marie, Russell draws you in with radiant warmth....Buntrock, a young British up-and-comer, isn't just concerned with 'Gee whiz' effects. His sharp and graceful staging awakens the beauty in the exhilarating score and makes weaknesses in the story -- Act II restates what's already been said in Act I -- fade."

Deeming the production a "glorious revival," The New YorkTimes' Ben Brantley offers a positive review: "The great gift of this production, first staged in London two years ago, is its quiet insistence that looking is the art by which all people shape their lives. As a consequence, a familiar show shimmers with a new humanity and clarity that make theatergoers see it with virgin eyes. And while Sunday remains a lopsided piece -- pairing a near-perfect, self-contained first act with a lumpier, less assured second half -- this production goes further than any I’ve seen in justifying the second act’s existence.... And Mr. Buntrock’s Sunday, which also stars a charming Jenna Russell as Dot, has the same intimacy it possessed when I saw an earlier version at the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory in London in 2005."

Initiating her review with a reassuring, "Fear not. It's still magic," Newsday's Linda Winer offers a mostly favorable assessment: "Whatever the differences -- a few even better, a few not -- this new Sunday is heart-thumpingly true to the mother lode....The result is a work of art about the making of art, an intimate piece of effortless musical audacity -- and a great bittersweet love story -- that remains among the peak theater experiences of my life....Ultimately, this is nothing less than an unpretentious art-history lesson, a thoughtfully conservative message about the need for order in art. It is also a close-to-the-bone consideration of art's toll on a human being, an inspirational message about the need for people to connect and to move on."

Urging readers to take in the show's "unmissably innovative piece of musical staging," New York Post's Clive Barnes offers three stars: "The results, built into the designs by David Farley and the lighting by Ken Billington, and based on pointillist Georges Seurat's iconic painting, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte," is one of the most visually amazing shows ever to reach Broadway. So far as geek wizardry goes, Buntrock and his team of animators, led by Timothy Bird, have possibly reinvented the Broadway wheel.... So far, so good. Then almost total collapse. The second act -- set in 1984 -- unfortunately finds George's great-grandson in the modish American art world, fighting for the patrons and subsidies to finance his own clearly pretentious style of visual art. The story now drifts off into highfalutin fatuity....Clever, but the act is also boring and pompous."

Allowing that this revival is "accomplished enough," Bloomberg's John Simon delivers perhaps the most sour note: "The James Lapine book is extremely clever, Stephen Sondheim's score even more so. Unfortunately, clever and good are not quite identical.... I found the original 1984 Broadway production, with scenery by Tony Straiges and orchestrations by Michael Starobin, slightly more compelling than this revival....My real problem, finally, is that the songs, though generally impressive, are more apt than appealing, more concert hall than Broadway. It is a musical with rather more mind than heart."

With all the critical raves, even from me, could this Sunday In The Park With George possibly be granted an extension beyond June 1? Stay tuned.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Sunday In The Park With George (The SOB Review) (February 22, 2008)
Sunday Opens Thursday Night (February 21, 2008)
Show Deals: Breaking The Code (February 10, 2008)
Looking Forward: The SOB Top Five (January 2, 2008)
Sunday In The Park With Daniel And Jenna (May 7, 2007)
"Sunday" In Studio 54 With Roundabout (February 23, 2007)
Is It Just Me, Or...(Part II) (February 21, 2007)
Sunday At The Grosvenor House With Laurence (February 19, 2007)
Which British Hits Will Be Broadway-Bound? (September 20, 2006)
Sunday in the Park With George Revival Opens in London's West End (May 23, 2006)

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At 22 February, 2008, Blogger SarahB said...

I have to agree and am thrilled with the great reviews, however, Ben Brantley said it best: " will always be Mr. Patinkin’s and Ms. Peters’s voices I hear in my head when I recall the songs." Me too, Ben, me too.

At 22 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sarah, Fortunately for all of us, those performances have forever been preserved on DVD, which is the way I first saw it.

At 23 February, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

steve, what can you tell me about the musical in the heights???

At 23 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I have not yet seen In The Heights, but have tickets to see it next month at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre. The show opens March 9.

This transfer from Off-Broadway is self described as:
"GET READY TO EXPERIENCE an exhilarating journey into one of Manhattan's most vibrant communities, named 'BEST MUSICAL OF THE YEAR' by New York Magazine and 'BEST OF 2007' by The New York Times. With an amazing cast, incredible dancing and a gripping story of hope and self-discovery, In The Heights is your ticket into a world where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music.

"Find out what it takes to make a living, what it costs to have a dream, and what it means to be home...In The Heights."

Also, according the official Web site:
"In The Heights began as an original musical conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University. Upon graduating and returning home to New York, Miranda collaborated with director Thomas Kail to rework and restage the campus hit for a larger audience. That's how they captured the interest of producers Jill Furman, Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, whose previous work on Broadway included Rent, Avenue Q and The Drowsy Chaperone. After more workshops, more collaborators, and a stint at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in Connecticut, the musical found a home at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts Theatre. Seven years after the idea was first born, In The Heights was ready for its New York theatrical debut.

During its Off-Broadway run at 37 Arts, In The Heights quickly became an audience phenomenon and a critical success. The response was unprecedented; the musical was luring both traditional and non-traditional theatergoers and garnering a huge cache of accolades, including the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical. After over 200 performances, In The Heights played its final Off-Broadway show on July 15th, 2007, in order to begin preparations for a move to Broadway."


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