SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
United Players, Jericho Arts Centre, January 20th - February 12th 2017
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
There is something about the set of Sunday in the Park with George by United Players which somehow evokes such a sense of calm and yet screams disarray at the same time. In the introduction the ensemble of performers fill the stage in a wash of creams, whites and nudes; a stunning opening visually to what is an accomplished piece of theatre, both in looks and in substance.
Firstly, let’s talk about the cast assembled here. As George, Brandyn Eddy holds a tricky balance of likeability and perfectionism, you can feel his anguish and angst as he battles between his personal and creative life. Martha Ansfield-Scrase’s Dot is wonderfully scattered, the perfect antithesis to George’s brooding nature, starting off strong in the title song with flickers of anger, distaste and whistful love-sickness. Both are very, very well cast and portray a believable and emotional love affair which plays out to it’s unavoidable conclusion. You would be forgiven if you listen to the cast recording that the show is really a two-hander, with an ensemble in backing but to say that would be to dismiss the array of other characters which add such wonderful depth and diversity. Ian Farthing, as Jules, has just the right amount of silliness in his approach which transforms what could otherwise have been rather a dull character. Charlie Deagon steps well in the role of Franz and his burgeoning romance with The Nurse (Tristin Wayte) is very fun to watch. Although in a small role, Ranae Miller manages to catch your attention whenever on stage. Really the whole cast here deserves a shout out. But I have a word limit, and a time limit. This makes a nice change; as I have an ongoing gripe that acting in musicals is generally given less importance or thought, sometimes with shockingly bad results. Ryan Mooney here clearly applying years of experience as a director to bring the best perfomances from these actors, whilst also having the unenviable task of blocking such a large cast in a small space.
Clare Wyatt as musical director has done a great job. Sondheim is notoriously tricky, something which audiences suspect but I believe only performers can ever truly know. This is never more so apparent than in the Act Two opener “It’s Hot Up Here” with the entire cast, just wow. The tricky balances and harmonies throughout are performed with aplomb. On the subject of balance, this is the first musical I have seen at Jericho Arts Centre with a good technical balance of overall sound. The band situated on the upper deck behind the seating is the perfect choice giving a body of instrumentation all around which perfectly frames the well mic-ed cast. There were a couple of small technical glitches with mics turning on or off a little early or late, but these things usually iron out after opening night. Kianna Skelly (Technical and Lighting Designer) and Sandy Margaret (Set Designer/Head Scenic Painter) have worked hard to put together a set which is simple, engaging, and effective.
United Players have proven that they can not only handle Sondheim, but that they can do it extremely well. From the bawdy crassness of the American Couple (on Inaugeration Day seeming more relevant than ever) to the deep emotion as we see George and Dot struggle with the eternal question 'Is love enough?'; from quirky anecdotal refrains like "Everybody Loves Louis" to swells of rich harmony in Sunday; this show is truly delightful. Long, but delightful.
By Kelly Moncton
Sunday in the Park with George is a challenge. This musical demands a great deal of the cast, the technical team, and the audience. The United Players of Vancouver production rises to the challenge, and engages the imagination, intellect, and heart.
The story revolves around George Seurat and his post-Impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Brandyn Eddy, as Seurat, displays the obsessive nature needed to paint in a pointillistic style, but also the kind, empathetic nature hidden beneath. He made the often angular melodies sound remarkably natural, soared through high tenor notes with ease, and even sang a charming song as two different dogs! Martha Ansfield-Scrase, as Seurat’s mistress, Dot, also navigated her lovely erratic songs with a clear, consistent sound, and gave her character an impulsive warmth that balanced George beautifully. The other characters in the story are given less stage time to develop, but the actors were engaging without devolving into stock characters. In particular, Ian Farthing and Ranae Miller caught the eye with effortless naturalism. Other than one or two messy moments in crowd scenes, the cast of 15 moved about the relatively small stage with great precision and comfort. The performers also changed gears impressively in the second act, where they all become new characters in a new country and time period. Brandyn’s mastery of the frantic ‘Putting it Together’, and Martha’s change to a more reflective character for ‘Children and Art’ were both impressive.
Sandy Margaret’s set was flexible enough to bridge two centuries and two countries, a park, a studio, an art gallery, and the inside of a painting, with rich details in some moments, and brief impressions in others. The ambitious costume design for the first act by CS Fergusson-Vaux had the characters change from a pale, ‘blank canvas’ palette to rich Victorian hues in a very effective way. As Seurat’s great passion was representing light, the lighting also played a detailed and important role in telling his story. I was particularly impressed by Richard Berg’s sound design. Jericho Arts Centre is not an easy place to balance a band and singers, and this was possibly the first production in this location where I felt I could enjoy both equally.
Much of the story and songs are made up of fragments that add up together, just as the painting is created. I appreciate how much hard work must have gone into perfecting all of those intricate transitions and combinations. It means the audience almost always has a new character or idea to think about. This can be exciting, but almost too much of a good thing. When the whole cast finally sang together near the end of the first act, I got goosebumps. It was absolutely beautiful, and honestly, a relief to turn off my mind a bit and just enjoy the talent in the room!
Sondheim’s works aren’t stereotypical fluffy musicals. They have more depth and thought behind them. As long as you arrive willing to think a bit, this production of Sunday in the Park with George will be an absolute pleasure.