REVIEW: Sunday in the Park with George (Porchlight)

 

Porchlight’s ‘Sunday’ doesn’t quite put it together

 

Cast of Sunday in the Park With George

   
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
   
Sunday in the Park with George
   
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine
Directed by L. Walter Stearns, music direction by Eugene Dizon
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago (map)
Through Oct. 31  | 
Tickets: $38  |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

"His touch is too deliberate, somehow."

That lyric, from the 1984 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George, might well describe Porchlight Music Theatre Director L. Walter Stearns’ uneven revival, which somehow fails to connect the dots of the Stephen Sondheim musical.

Sondheim James Lapine’s imagined backstory behind 19th-century painter Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" (now housed at the Art Institute of Chicago) has only a tangential relationship to the real biography of the groundbreaking neoimpressionist whose early death deprived the art world of what surely would have been a brilliant career. Instead it concentrates on the troublesome issues of balance between art and life, work and relationships, ambition and practicality.

The artist calls for "Order. Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance" — elements that can make or break any work of art. This imbalanced production falters under too much design and not enough tone.

Hidden behind the scenes, Music Director Eugene Dizon on piano and his orchestra — Carolyn Berger, violin; Michelle Lewis, cello; Allison Richards, viola; Patrick Rehker and Derek Weihofen, woodwinds; and Jennifer Ruggieri, harp — do a stellar job with the music. Unfortunately, many of the singers don’t measure up.

Amanda Sweger‘s massive backdrop and Liviu Pasare‘s distracting video projections overwhelm the small stage and the cast as well.

Brandon Dahlquist ably captures George’s sensitivity and absorption, with an expressive face that suggests the real Seurat’s soulful looks and a fine tenor. Yet too often he’s obscured behind the scrim or facing away from the audience. (John Francisco will take this role for the final three weekends of the run.) Seurat’s painting may be the subject of the play, but we really don’t need to see it all the time. An empty stretcher would have conveyed the idea of the work just as well and allowed us to see the actor’s face.

On the other hand, Jess Godwin’s passion is all in her face and rarely in her singing. Playing George’s lover, Dot, the animated and lovely Godwin displays an almost palpable yearning for the artist. The slender redhead bears no resemblance to the Seurat’s actual mistress, Madeleine Knobloch (the buxom subject of "Young Woman Powdering Herself"), which doesn’t matter, but her voice often sounds as thin as her figure, and that does.

Several members of the supporting cast put in excellent performances, however. Sara Stern is superb as George’s peevish, elderly mother. Her fabulous version of "Beautiful" is the highlight of Act I. Sarah Hayes and Daniel Waters do a hilarious job as the unhappy American tourists. Bil Ingraham and Heather Townsend are aptly haughty as the successful painter Jules and his wife, Yvonne, delivering tittering pronouncements on George’s work in "No Life," and Michael Pacas makes a wonderfully wry and full-voiced boatman.

The second act, which jumps forward to a modern artist, also named George — a fictional great-grandson of Seurat — seems much stronger, as if the cast and crew felt more comfortable in the 20th century. Dahlquist, now fresh-faced and beardless, is out in front here. But Godwin, now portraying George’s grandmother, sings "Children and Art" so softly she’s nearly inaudible.

Sunday is one of Sondheim’s more challenging musicals. Porchlight would have done much better to concentrate on the essentials of light and harmony instead of reaching for the heavy design elements that weigh down this production.

"Art isn’t easy, no matter how you look at it."

   
   
Rating:★★
   
  

Benefit Concert

Porchlight Music Theatre hosts a benefit concert, "By Popular Demand," at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago (map).

In Act I, singers Jayson Brooks, Sean Effinger-Dean, Nick Foster, Jess Godwin, Lina Kernan, Ryan Lanning, Bethany Thomas, Joseph Tokarz and others perform. At intermission, the audience votes to determine who’ll return to sing again in Act II.

Tickets are $40. Two votes are included with your admission. Each additional vote costs $1 and supports new talent, new works and new productions at Porchlight.

Review: Theo Ubique’s “Man of La Mancha”

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Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents:

Man of La Mancha

Book by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed by David Heimann
Music Directed by Ethan Deppe
Thru November 22nd (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

lamancha21 With a plunger for a sword and a bowl for a helmet, Cervantes proclaims he is the knight, Don Quixote. Sounds crazy? Set in a mental institution, the asylum’s newest inmate, Cervantes, must convince a jury of his peers that he is not crazy. Man of La Mancha, then, is a play within a play. Don Quixote tells his tale of slaying dragons (windmills), storming castles (the local inn) and rescuing a lady in distress (the local whore) to prove his identity. From the playwright  (Dale Wasserman), who penned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the man (and No Exit Café owner Michael James), whose father first produced the 1965 Broadway version, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents this musical featuring a woman as the Man of La Mancha.

Instead of going in a Victor/Victoria direction – a  woman believing she is a man believing she’s a different man – this production of Man of La Mancha introduces Danielle Brothers (Cervantes/Don Quixote) as simply a man. Brothers does an excellent job of sustaining that illusion. With a formal elocution, she portrays a man of chivalry and honor from days gone by. There are only sporadic moments of …oh right, Brothers is a woman… during some of the songs. Singing in a range not her norm, Brothers hits the notes but loses a little power on the projection. This is most apparent when she is singing with her sidekick Sancho (Anthony John Lawrence Apodaca). Accompanied by a live orchestra, the cast’s amazing singing leads to involuntary shoulder dancing and humming. “To Dream the Impossible Dream” prompts hope and empowerment within a crazy world. This light hearted musical energy is briefly interrupted with “The Abduction” song. More precise, “The Rape” song is a little startlingly dramatic to the overall enjoyment of crazy people’s antics.

lamancha1 Bringing back dinner theatre, Theo Ubique provides a dinner option for an additional $23. But don’t go for the food! Salad, frittata, and banana bread isn’t a bad three course meal. It’s just not a great one. Go for the opportunity to experience the actors already in character on stage and serving the meal. Apodaca is our repeat server (also served us in the company’s Jeff Award-winning Evita). Apodaca warns us to keep an eye on our silverware around the inmates. During the dinner hour, it’s fascinating to observe the interpretations of insanity. Daniel Waters (Padre) was particularly intriguing (I want to say creepy but that doesn’t sound politically correct) as he sat on the stage rocking. Go crazy and over tip! Chicago actors as servers is one of my favorite charities to support.

 

Rating: «««

 

Aside: The man who is perfectly at home in any asylum, Dick describes the show as crazy, romantic and cool.

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