‘George’ explores art of making art
For a while back in the 1980s, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine counted San Diego as a kind of second home. The Broadway heavyweights came here to stage the world premiere of their musical “Into the Woods” at the Old Globe, and retool an earlier work, “Merrily We Roll Along,” at La Jolla Playhouse.
And yet until this month, one of the pair’s most celebrated collaborations — the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Sunday in the Park With George” — had not been produced professionally here at all.
When: In previews. Opens Friday. 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through July 16.
Where: Ion Theatre at the James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park.
Tickets: $25-$45 (discounts available)
Phone: (619) 600-5020
That has finally changed thanks to Ion Theatre, which is teaming with the San Diego Museum of Art to stage the piece, 32 years after its premiere.
It’s a long-talked-about project for Ion, which has previously mounted chamber-style revivals of the Sondheim-composed shows “Gypsy” and “Passion” at the company’s cozy space in Hillcrest.
And the partnership between the theater and SDMA is a particularly fitting one: “Sunday in the Park With George” centers on the Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat and will unfold inside the art museum, on the stage of the James S. Copley Auditorium.
The fact that “George” is so much about the creative process, says Ion producing artistic director Glenn Paris, also speaks to the very essence of both the theater and the museum.
“It explores the making of art — what it means to be an artist and the challenges of that, both in the time that Seurat was painting (and now),” says Paris of the play, which he is co-directing with associate artistic director Kim Strassburger.
Georges Seurat, now considered one of the most important artists of his era, never sold a painting in his lifetime.
The piece is also deeply about “an artist trying to reconcile his work with his personal relationships and the challenges that can bring.”
The musical revolves around Seurat’s work on his 1884 pointillist masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” and the way his obsession and artistic frustrations affect his bond with his mistress and model, Dot.
The show’s second half jumps ahead to the 1980s and the story of another painter who may have more than an artistic connection to Seurat. In both parts of the play, characters from the painting come to life and make their voices heard.
Ion has cast two leads who are new to Ion but familiar to local theatergoers. Jon Lorenz, a versatile composer-actor-director most associated with Lamb’s Players Theatre, portrays George (as he is known throughout), while Melissa Fernandes, a regular at New Village Arts, Cygnet and other companies, plays Dot/Marie.
(The cast also includes Stewart Calhoun as Franz/Dennis, Morgan Carberry (Nurse/Mrs./Harriet Pawling), Devlin (The Old Lady/Blair Daniels), Walter DuMelle (The Boatman/Charles Redmond), Charlie Gange (Louis/Mr./Billy Webster), Priti Gandhi (Celeste No. 2/Elaine), Patrick Gates (The Soldier/Alex), Katrina Heil (Louise), Jesse MacKinnon (Jules/Bob Greenberg), Lizzie Morse (Celeste No. 1/Lee Randolph), Julia Nardi-Loving (Freida/Betty), and Wendy Waddell as Yvonne/Naomi Eisen).
It’s a demanding piece for the actors, says Paris, who’s a Sondheim devotee from way back (he saw the much-admired composer’s “A Little Night Music” on Broadway four times around age 14).
But a single-minded devotion to art, even with the struggles and hardships it can bring, “is really the story of the musical, and what it explores.”