When the intermission of the Schenectady Civic Players’ production of “Sunday in the Park with George” came Friday evening, I thought perhaps Act II would pick up.
It did not. That it didn’t was not the fault of the production, which is quite good.
The fault is with the material itself. Of course, any Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical has merits, among them ideas worth pondering, clever lyrics and engaging theatrical elements, and so it is with this show. But for my money, the music quickly becomes deadening in its sameness, and the story doesn’t convince in Act II.
‘Sunday in the Park with George’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through May 12
HOW MUCH: $18
MORE INFO: 382-2081 or www.civicplayers.org
The conceit is interesting: a fictionalized telling of the making of Georges Seurat’s large pointillistic painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte,” and, in the second act, an account of the artistic life of his great-grandson, George, a young man as eager to produce something new as his famous ancestor was. Both episodes take a swipe at the arbiters of artistic taste and the personal cost to artists on the cutting edge.
Act I is wonderful to look at, thanks to set designer Duncan Morrison — who directs, too, and well — the costumes of Jenniver Sparano and Mara Blumenfeld, Don Mealy’s lighting design and the hair design of John Fowler and David Tinkham. I wondered about the scrim covering the projections in Act II, but perhaps it was a technical glitch.
The 15-member cast recreates the characters in the Seurat painting, ordinary Parisians whom Georges meets and sketches and then carefully arranges on his 7- by 10-foot canvas. Each figure has a personality, and the SCP actors bring them to distinctive life.
These same performers score at the top of Act II with “It’s Hot Up Here,” but then things go off. In their 20th-century outfits — and some bad wigs, alas — they look rather ill at ease, and the material they have to work with is tedious.
Valerie A. Lord is the musical director and keyboard player, and, along with four fellow musicians, she makes the best of this pointillistic score. Thanks to her, too, the cast ably negotiates the music’s tricky spots.
Anchoring the production are Matthew G. Moross (a fellow Gazette reviewer) as Georges/George and Molly Rose McGrath as Dot/Marie. Moross provides the show’s dramatic heft and sings confidently, particularly in “Putting It Together,” a long song that describes the challenges of establishing and maintaining an artistic career. Behind a bushy dark beard and thick black hair in Act I, Moross movingly reveals the soul of an uncompromising artist, a person you admire highly but couldn’t make a life with.
And that’s what Dot discovers. McGrath, in glorious voice throughout — and right off the bat in a daunting number called “Sunday in the Park with George” — convincingly makes Dot a vibrant young woman who wants more from Georges than simply to be his model. Dot is funny, desperate, and poignant, thanks to McGrath’s strong performance.
Capital Repertory Theatre is currently doing “Red,” the story of 20th-century painter Mark Rothko that touches on some of the same themes as this show. Shortcomings aside, “Sunday in the Park with George” makes an interesting companion piece to that play.