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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 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 the man standing next to her in the painting tells her 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: George paints to the rhythm of "Color and Light". Dot puts on makeup to the rhythm of same.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Brings attention to the fact that there's a monkey in the original painting for no apparent reason.
    • Not in the musical, but Seurat has the woman holding a monkey on a leash to imply that she's a prostitute: In nineteenth century slang, 'singesse' (female monkey in French) meant prostitute. Though at one point in "It's Hot Up Here" Dot laments she doesn't want to be remembered with the monkey; that may be why.
  • 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.
  • Gossipy Hens: Several of the minor characters.
  • Grief Song: "Lesson #8."
  • I Am What I Am: "Finishing The Hat," doubling as a BSoD Song.
  • Identical Grandson: Georges and George.
  • 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, amiable, and friendly 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Patter Song: Several examples, most notably "Color and Light" which parallels George's brush strokes.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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".


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