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Theatre / Sunday in the Park with George

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"White, a blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities..."

A 1984 Musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It was the first in a series of shows the two collaborated on, among them Into the Woods and Passion. It is based around a fictional telling of the creation of the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the Magnum Opus of painter Georges-Pierre Seurat.

It centers, in the first act, on a fictionalized version of Georges Seurat and his mistress, Dot. Dot loves Georges for his passion and his art, but can't understand him, nor does he pay as much attention to her as she needs. They are caught up by the stream of petty rivalries, jealousies, spats, and artistic pretentions that dominate the interactions of Parisians on their Sunday visits to La Grande Jatte. As criticism of his work mounts, Georges grows less and less attentive of the world around him, even as Dot leaves him and the facade of civility and happiness collapses completely. Much to everyone's surprise, Georges manages to create a painting that is not only a masterful display of color and light, but an image of a perfect, peaceful Sunday that has never, really, existed, but outlives all the squabbles and smugness of its actual subjects.

The second act focuses on Georges's fictional descendant, George, who is also an artist. George's particular medium, however, is not painting but "Chromolumes," a very avant-garde and cutting-edge idea of George's own invention. Sadly, they're utterly meaningless to everyone except George. And they're also expensive as hell to put together. How is he supposed to find inspiration, and, perhaps just as importantly, funding, in a world that really doesn't care about originality?

The original production, with Mandy Patinkin as Georges and George, and Bernadette Peters as Dot, was captured on television in 1986. A revival occured in 2008. A second revival, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Georges, reopened the Hudson Theatre in 2017.

This musical contains examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted, unless you count it being based on a painting.
  • And You Were There: The second act focuses on a group of characters played by the same actors as those in the first.
    • Complete with meaningful parallels. For example, the actress who plays the Old Lady in Act 1 also plays Blair Daniels in Act 2 - two stern, matriarchal women who see right through George and force him to confront his issues.
  • Artistic License – History: A deliberate example. Dot never existed; Georges Seurat's real life mistress was named Madeleine Knobloch, and while they had two children both died young, hence no grandchildren or great-grandchildren could have existed either. The Celestes do mention a rumor that Georges has another woman, leaving the door open for Madeleine to exist in this world as well, but it's unknown if it's her or Dot who's the "other."
  • Artistic License – Geography: The first act is set on the isle of La Grande Jatte, in Paris. On at least two occasions, characters comment upon the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which they claim is visible on the far bank. In reality, the tower is more than a mile away, and viewing it (especially at an early stage of construction) would require being able to see across a large oxbow of the Seine and a substantial section of city.
  • Aside Glance: Dot gives one to the audience when Jules tells her, in the painting, that she has "excellent concentration."
  • Betty and Veronica: After leaving Georges, the intelligent but difficult artist (Veronica) Dot marries the pleasant but boring baker, Louis (Betty). However, she still loves Georges.
  • Blind Without 'Em: In "It's Hot Up Here" Louise is miffed that she can no longer see anything because George took her glasses.
  • Break-Up Song: "We Do Not Belong Together."
  • Caustic Critic: Subverted with Blair Daniels, the critic who appears in Act II. Yes, she criticizes George's Chromolume, but she very much knows what she's talking about (it's mentioned that she also writes essays on contemporary art trends—something real critics do), and she points out the hypocrisy of George complaining about her remarks when she's championed his work before. Blair also acknowledges that George is talented, saying that she wouldn't bother with her criticisms if there was no room for improvement or sign of great potential. George ends up agreeing with her.
  • Chick Magnet: George. He has the love of Dot and Yvonne admits that she fancies him, defending herself by saying all the women did. Indeed, Freida makes note of his beautiful eyes and The Nurse seems to find him interesting and says he's handsome. Less explicit with the Celestes who are rather mean spirited about George, but their gossiping shows he's certainly on their minds a bit, and they perk up upon hearing he's painted them. One of them also claims he's gotten another woman after Dot, who may or may not be the same woman George mentions at a later point in the show.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: George rejects his status as Marie's father noting that he would be too inattentive of a parent and that Louis will properly care for her.
  • D-Cup Distress: Dot briefly wishes, among other things, that her bust was smaller so she could be in the Follies, but quickly dismisses the idea as silly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Georges and Dot have a lot of this. The Boatman is even more abrasive.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Louis the baker, Dot's husband, is essentially a Bland Perfection type that actually gets the girl — Dot laments that the only thing wrong with him is that nothing's wrong with him.
  • Doting Grandparent: Marie to George. She embarrasses him from time to time, but is also deeply fond of him and proud as can be of his art.
  • The '80s: Act II
  • Epic Rocking: "Sunday", of course.
  • Everyone Has Standards: George is a bit of a jerk himself, but he calls out The Boatman for yelling at Louise just for trying to pet his dog.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: George paints to the rhythm of "Color and Light". Dot puts on makeup to the rhythm of same.
  • False Friend: Subverted with Jules. He's jealous of George and seemingly unsupportive of his work. Ultimately it's shown that he does respect and like George, but during their time together a combination of his envy and other artists mockery of his friend got in the way of that.
  • Fanfare: The horn solo at the end of "Sunday."
  • Fashion Dissonance: The show was originally released in the 1980's, and Act II is set in that same period (supposed to be a hundred years after the painting was finished.) When the show is staged nowadays, there is a (possibly intentional) side effect of making the 1980's fashion look equally absurd as the 1880's.
  • Final Love Duet: "Move On"
  • Foil: Louis to Georges, as elaborated on in the song "Everybody Loves Louis" — Louis is a baker, whose cakes are adored and happily devoured, who connects easily with people where Georges doesn't.
  • Freudian Slip: In "Putting it Together," George is rapidly listing all that the process of selling art entails, building up to him singing "... so that you can go on exhibiti—so that your work can go on exhibition!"
  • Gossipy Hens: Several of the minor characters.
  • Grief Song: "Lesson #8."
  • Hidden Depths: The supporting cast. George has no personal interest in them beyond using them as models, so we don't get to know them too well. At the same time, we get several interesting glances into their own lives and drama.
  • I Am What I Am: "Finishing The Hat," doubling as a BSoD Song.
  • Identical Grandson: Georges and George. Both in appearance and personality.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Georges is a straight example of this, bordering on Loners Are Freaks— his genius is misunderstood, and he frequently drives people away with his eccentricity and stubbornness. George-his-grandson appears to be social and amiable enough, but it turns out that he's cultivated this to navigate the politics of modern art and sponsorship.
  • Inner Monologue: Several of the songs involve the action freezing on stage while a character expresses their thoughts. Especially in "Putting it Together."
  • Ironic Hell: Within the painting itself, the residents of the painting are trapped, immobile, forever, in a blazing hot summer day on the river. Furthermore, their pettiness and selfishness in real life has in no way diminished - but they look like they're a perfectly happy, peaceful, and beautiful congregation.
    • "And you are out of all proportion!"
  • Irony: A little version, but the song "No Life" done by an artist/critic and his wife, consists of them criticizing and looking down on Seurat's painting "Une Baignade, Asnieres" ("The Bathers), for having "no life" - when in fact the painting is a tableau vivante, and therefore made up of living people all posed. It's as lively as anything!
    • "These things get hung / And then they're gone", sings Jules of Georges' painting. Of course, Georges' work is still famous today, while Jules is inferred to be an artist popular in Georges' time, but now lost to obscurity.
  • Leitmotif: Try to find a number in this show that isn't repeated somewhere else. A major contender, however, has to be "Color and Light."
  • Love Theme: George and Dot have a shared one that develops throughout the score.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "It's Hot Up Here" fits.
    • "Putting it Together" counts as one.
  • Monochrome Casting: Enforced Trope. It's based on a painting. Everyone in the painting is white. And as it's the same cast between Acts I and II, this show is pretty much always all-white.
    • Subverted in the 2017 revival, which featured a highly diversified cast compared to previous productions.
  • The Muse: Dot to Georges.
  • Muse Abuse: Georges' interest in the people around him is almost totally predicated on whether he wants to sketch them or not. He's not always gracious about it either, and ends up losing his true love, Dot.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Nobody in France sounds French. To differentiate the two American characters from the American-accented French, the speak in stereotypical Southern accents.
  • Nice Guy: Louis who is attentive and loving to Dot in a way that George can not be.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • Dot and Yvonne realize that they've both been neglected by their respective artists which causes them to sympathize each other despite their prior antagonism.
    • The Boatman curses out George but later on notes that they're both outsiders before he then curses him out again.
  • Offscreen Romance:
    • Jules and Freida are revealed to be having an affair with no prior buildup. It's implied they haven't slept together so it seems to be a somewhat new development.
    • After The Soldiers and Celestes have paired off, they're later seen to have switched with no explanation of what caused that to happen.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, especially in Act One. Not only do you have Georges and George across separate acts, but Act One has a Louis and a Louise, Franz and Frida, and a Celeste #1 and Celeste #2. It's probably deliberate.
  • Oscar Bait: Or Tony Bait, though it won the Pulitzer Prize and not the Tony Award. This is a classic example of what William Goldman would call a "Snob Hit," being full of Genius Bonuses and being very much about art and art criticism.
  • Patter Song: Several examples, most notably "Color and Light" which parallels George's brush strokes.
  • Pet the Dog: George's obsession with his work and neglect of Dot paints him as a bit of an unsympathetic figure. Midway through Act 1 he's given the song "The Day Off" which is entirely about him goofing around with dogs in the park, helping to offset this.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Marie does this just before the presentation of the Chromolume.
    Marie: George begins to activate the Chromolume machine as...
    George: Don't read that part, Grandmother.
    Marie: Oh...don't read this...
  • Punny Name: Of course the artist obsessed with pointillism has a mistress named "Dot".
  • Replacement Goldfish: "I have another woman now." "They're all the same woman!" "Variations on a theme!"
  • Reprise Medley: "Move On" utilizes several of the motifs established throughout the show and combines them into one song.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • 1984: The entire painting was recreated three-dimensionally on stage, using standing cut-outs for the background characters, allowing Georges to literally create the painting by bringing things into the frame.
    • 2008: The entire stage was completely white, and the backgrounds and ensemble characters were added using projections, allowing Georges to literally create the painting with a wave of his brush.
  • Serious Business: Art is life and death to characters in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and everyone knows it. It's humorously lampshaded when Dennis, George's electrical engineer, declares his intention to quit: "I'm going back to NASA. There's just too much pressure in this line of work!"
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The American couple don't show up until late into the first act, have only a couple of short dialogue scenes, and don't get any songs beyond appearing as part of the company in "Sunday". You could easily take their introductory scene as just a bit of comic relief and American self-deprecation by Lapine and Sondheim, until they start making noise about hiring a French baker and bringing him back across the Atlantic with them. Their scene is no laughing matter when you consider that their silly, self-serving impulse is what ultimately pulls Dot to America and out of Georges' life forever.
  • Straw Critic: The critics who accuse Georges Seurat's work of having "No Life" have much in common with Sondheim's.
    • Averted with Blair Daniels, who, despite being harsh, is also discerning and recognizes genuine talent when she sees it.
    • Jules and Yvonne arguably subvert it too. Though they come across as obnoxious critics at first, they both show more humanizing sides later on and both actually do respect George.
Sunday Is Boring:
  • Subverted in "Sunday", where an ordinary Sunday afternoon is given great dramatic weight as it becomes immortalized in Georges Seurat's painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
  • Played straight in "It's Hot Up Here", when 100 years later the subjects of the same painting all complain about how hot and monotonous it is to be stuck in the same Sunday afternoon with the same people for eternity.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: Most of the score is comprised of the same musical material. Melodies, harmonies, and accompaniment figures are endlessly combined and reworked in different ways throughout the show.
    • On a more over-arching level, the score of Act 2 is a variation on the score of Act 1 - "It's Hot Up Here" on "Sunday In The Park With George", "Chromolume #7" on "Color and Light", "Putting It Together" on "Gossip Sequence" and "Finishing The Hat" and so forth. This is done deliberately to emphasise how the individual struggles of both Georges are variations on the universal struggles of artists throughout history.
  • Villain Song: "No Life". Though Jules and Yvonne aren't villains, they can be rather unpleasant at times and this song is them at their most snobby, where they pretentiously tear apart George's art.