MIAMI, Fla. — With a practically bare, white playing space as a blank canvas, Zoetic Stage’s Stuart Meltzer, his cast and crew have fashioned a gorgeous work of art in the award-winning Miami company’s current production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s masterpiece “Sunday in the Park with George.”
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical, which also won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, is playing the Carnival Studio Theater, located in Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center through Feb. 12.
This production, the South Florida premiere of the musical, combines striking stage pictures, stark lighting by Rebecca Montero, eye-catching video projections by Greg Duffy and top-notch singing voices from a talented cast of veterans and younger thespians who nail Sondheim’s complex music. A vibrant, live orchestra accompanies the cast.
Individually, cast members’ possess rangy, expressive voices. But like the painting technique at the center of the musical, the individual voices beautifully coalesce, especially to sing the show’s best song, the stately “Sunday.”
On several Sundays during the late 1800s, French painter Georges Seurat gathers at a park on an island in the Seine river to prepare his notable painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
Sound effects of chirping birds, created by sound designer Dan Mayer, reinforce the serene atmosphere.
Seurat created the work, considered his most famous, in the form of a painting technique called Pointillism. It involves small, separate dots of color applied in patterns to form an image.
Seurat’s finished product mostly shows members of the French bourgeoisie relaxing on lazy, sunny Sundays on the island.
In the show, the painting’s subjects spring to life, commenting on various subjects, including Seurat’s endless concentration while he works to paint likenesses of the people.
Director Meltzer’s smart staging includes ensuring a separation exists on-stage between the aloof Seurat (Cooper Grodin) and the rest of the characters.
With his dark hair, beard, black costume, lowered eyebrows and sharp, bossy voice, Grodin projects a brooding, even dictatorial air. He’s commanding toward those he is painting, particularly his love interest, Dot (Kimberly Doreen Burns). It’s clear his Seurat is deeply committed to “Finishing the Hat.”
Grodin conveys a dark and serious aura without making his character unlikable. Like his painting, his performance is multi-colored, with injections of charm and playfulness.
As Dot, Kimberly Doreen Burns invests her character with impatience and exasperation at Seurat’s demands and neglect of her. But Burns also communicates her character’s devotion to Seurat. At one point, sheseductively touches Seurat’s body from the top to the bottom, as though he’s a work of art himself.
The first act takes place in 1884, while the second fast forwards to a museum in 1984 New York City.
In the latter, Georges’ great-grandson, named George, is a struggling painter trying to preserve his ancestor’s painting. With him is Georges’ and Dot’s now-elderly daughter, Marie (also played by Burns, who looks too young and acts too vibrant in the role).
The importance of art as a family legacy and the challenge of producing art are among the timeless themes in Act II.
George is played by Grodin with a strong sense of commitment and a sense he’s burdened by the hard task of producing art. Grodin makes it clear there’s a weight on this man’s shoulders to preserve his great-grandfather’s legacy.
“Art isn’t easy,” are lyrics that are repeated in the song “Putting it Together.” It’s sung by multiple characters, including George. The song, like others in the musical, showcases Sondheim’s brilliant rhymes and elegant lyrics.
Perhaps the lyrics that really draw us into the musical are the following:
“White. A blank page of canvas…So many possibilities.”
In Zoetic’s production, George sings the lyrics “So many possibilities,” in a whisper, but with an ardent enthusiasm suggesting a treasure chest’s worth of tempting choices.
Maybe art’s infinite possibilities make it so tempting to try to create.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Sunday in the Park with George.”
WHEN: Through Feb. 12.
WHERE: Carnival Studio Theater within the Adrienne Arsht Center For the Performing Arts of Miami-
Dade County. For tickets, call (877) 949-6722 or visit