year degree students presented the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sunday
In The Park With George, for three nights at the end of February and
although there was a healthy attendance (mostly of LIPA students)
on the night I went, there were also many empty seats. I hope that
this review will encourage readers to seek out their programme of
events and attend the study of Mozart and his rival in Amadeus or
the comedy musical, Little Shop Of Horrors.
film, Girl With A Pearl Earring, tells the story, largely fictitious,
of a famous painting, and, in 1984, James Lapine (book) and Stephen
Sondheim (music and lyrics) attempted something similar with George
Seurats pointilist masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon On The
Island Of La Grande Jatte. We witness a moving tableau as Seurat
(Peter Howe) paints his masterpiece, shifting trees, animals and
characters as the mood takes him. This scene from the 1880s is contrasted
with the 1980s where his great-grandson (Kevin Kemp) is paying homage
via avant-garde music with a light show, similar to the presentations
we see at the Bluecoat Gallery.
In The Park With George is a three-hour musical and yet it only
contains one recognisable song, Putting It Together. Most of the
score is in flecks and snatches, rather the way that Seurat paints
(which is obviously the point) and there is one scene in which Seurat
is painting his model and mistress, Dot (!), powdering her body
where their dabbing movements are complemented by the score.
musical is about creativity, be it music, art or anything else.
Both the opening and closing lines relate the beauty of a white
canvas or a white sheet of paper - so many possibilities.
There are discussions on the nature of work - is being an artist
as important as being a boatman, and is work what you do for others,
while art is what you do for yourself? As one song says, the two
things that endure are children and art. So as not to be too highfalutin,
the script is peppered with good jokes - the grandson refers to
Seurats work as the family tree and his assistant
wants to return to NASA as there is less pressure there.
want more information - Seurat never sold a painting in his lifetime
so how come he could afford to spend two years on this enormous
project? How did he make his living? If the authors did not put
it in the script, then perhaps it should be in a programme note.
Another plus point incidentally - the programmes are free.
acting and singing is very good and I will be keeping my programme
to check in ten years time which of these youngsters are recognisable
names, but having the cast all of an age does present a few problems.
The 98 year old still looks a fresh-complexioned 20-something and
a tall and slender student had to play a young girl. Jo Toop, the
actress playing Seurats mother was the best at disguising
the age difference, although she may not take that as a compliment!
Emma Nowell, playing Dot, has a lovely and expansive voice, which
was by far the most impressive vocal performance - and she looked
great too. Peter Howe as Seurat was very good and although his voice
was limited, the comedy number in which he imitates two dogs was
In The Park With George is a hugely complex production to mount
and hence, it is rarely staged. It involves a cast of 17, considerable
scenery and lighting effects, a five piece band and songs that must
be immensely difficult to learn. Under the direction of Nick Phillips,
the cast, the musicians and the technicians all did extremely well
and they must get a great kick out of doing something so professional
as this is an amateur production in name only.
the serious nature of much of the work, I was disappointed with
the audience who treated it at times like a student revue, laughing
when one of their friends had to adopt an alien accent or stance
- they really should know better. Whatever anyone got out of it
(and for some the musical would be too pretentious), the resounding
applause at the end was very well deserved.