REVIEW: Victorian Opera’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Simply – see this

By Bradley Storer

Victorian Opera undertakes a gargantuan challenge, both technically and artistically, with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

This Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of the life of French artist Georges Seurat and his painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte’, and the life of his fictional descendants, indelibly changed the landscape of the Broadway musical when it premiered in 1984, and the shadow of the original production is hard to escape. An opera company attempting to mount the musical presents even more challenges, given the fundamental differences between the art forms.

I can happily say that Victorian Opera has risen to the challenge and exceeded it spectacularly. The set design alone, inherently important to the meaning of the show, is astonishing. A simple bare scaffold  and a winding staircase unfolds into a continual array of surprising and delightful scenes – trees, buildings, sketches and pieces of George’s work fly in and out, all contained within a frame that resembles the outline of an artwork.

Alexander Lewis as the artist Georges Seurat brings a humanity, vulnerability and anguish to the role, as well as a flawless operatic tenor voice – for this reviewer, he lacked the fire and intensity at times needed to believe him as a visionary artist, but this is a small complaint. Christina O’Neill as his lover Dot overplayed her sensuality and sexuality at the beginning to a strident degree, but in the character’s more reflective moments she was perfection, and as this quality became more pronounced over the course of the show O’Neill created a strong and heart-breaking character who, more so than even George, is the soul of the show.

Nancye Hayes as George’s mother is hilariously understated and her Act One duet with Lewis ravishes with its delicate loveliness. The ensemble of Sunday, a mix of musical theatre and opera singers, are uniformly strong, all bringing hilarious and touching characterizations . The finale of Act One, the culmination of George’s work in assembling his masterpiece, is a glorious tribute to the power of art to create meaning in the human condition.

Having attended a panel discussion with the artistic team for Sunday, it is clear that this is a labour of love from an ensemble of artists that have enormous respect for the work and a singular vision for its creation. Here this union creates a magnificent production, a stunning and original artistic vision expertly executed and a triumph for all involved.

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Dates:    Sat 20 , Tue 23, Wed 24, Thur 25, Fri 26, Sat 27 July at 7.30pm and Wed 24, Sat 27 July at 1:00pm

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com, Ph: 1300 182 183

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