About The Show
Inspired by the painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's stunning masterpiece, merges past and present into beautiful, poignant truths about life, love, and the creation of art. One of the most acclaimed musicals of our time, this moving study of the enigmatic painter, Georges Seurat, won a Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for an astounding ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
In the days leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, Georges Seurat is struggling to make meaningful art and to maintain a relationship with his lover, Dot. Amid the scorn of the artistic community, Seurat's artistic ability thrives while his love diminishes. A century later, Seurat's descendant – also named George and an artist – finds himself burnt out and in search of what artistic path to follow, but he finds the answer to his future in the past.
Sunday in the Park with George is presented in two acts with one intermission.
The performance lasts approximately two and a half hours.
The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited.
Synopsis and Songs
WARNING: This synopsis of the play contains spoilers.
A Sunday in Paris in 1884. Georges, an artist who is experimenting with innovative painting techniques, is seated in front of a bare white stage, blank drawing-pad in hand. His challenge? "Bring order to the whole." As he speaks, the shimmering sea of white before him begins to transform itself - into a park on the island of La Grande Jatte. Georges starts to draw. A boat glides on, a couple appears in the distance and trees magically materialize. One tree, though, displeases Georges. He erases it from his pad and, suddenly, it is removed up into the sky and out of sight. For Dot, his model and long-suffering lover, standing in the sun, with no shade because there's no tree, it's just another Sunday In the Park with George.
(The National Gallery, London)
Learn more about this painting further down the page!
Now, however, we are in a gallery, where Jules, another painter, and his wife Yvonne are considering Georges' first major painting, "Bathing at Asnières". It is too cerebral, they conclude, too cold, too controlled. There is No Life in his art, says Jules. No life in his life, adds Yvonne. In the painter's studio, Dot sits at a vanity mirror powdering her face, while, in an identical rhythm, Georges dabs spots of red and purple and white on his new painting: it's only Color and Light. She is preparing to go to the Follies with him, but his painting proves more important - he has to stay to finish a hat. Dot leaves in a rage, realizing that for Georges, his art will always come first.
Returning to the park on another Sunday sometime later, Georges paints two women called Celeste as they Gossip about these poor deluded artists. Dot, pregnant, has a new lover, a baker called Louis. She has left Georges because she needs someone with an income to support her. Georges is, as ever, absorbed in his painting: today, he is imagining life as the Boatman's dog Spot, relishing The Day Off on the grass - after a "ruff" week. He goes when he sees Dot returning with the baker. True, he's not what she had in mind, but, in a way, his pastries are works of art and Everybody Loves Louis.
Georges is sorry Dot has left, but that is his life: he watches the world go by, while he sits at his easel, lost in some tiny detail, Finishing the Hat. "Look, I made a hat," he says, "where there never was a hat." Dot knows now that Georges is whole, complete. But she is not self-contained, she needs to move on. She understands that We Do Not Belong Together. When she comes by with their child, he does not even look up. "Louis is her father," he says. "Louis is not her father," Dot replies. "Louis is her father now", says Georges. Dot and Louis will take the baby to America.
In the park, the Old Lady - Georges' mother - urges him to paint, and preserve, everything that is Beautiful before it disappears, before new buildings obliterate the trees. Even as Georges insists that change is beautiful, his mother pines for the old view. Around him, the park fills with characters, squabbling and fighting until Georges calls for "order" and "balance". He commences to re-arrange the people and the trees and, from the chaos, assembles a peaceful promenade on La Grande Jatte. Harmony at last. As the fractious ensemble comes together to form his painting, Georges freezes his models in their final poses: an ordinary, perfect Sunday.
George Seurat, 1884/1886
(Art Institute of Chicago)
Learn more about this painting further down the page!
It is still a Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte. But the serenity of the final tableau has degenerated into petty bickering among the figures in the painting. It's monotonous, it's not Franz's good profile. Jules is completely out of proportion and, worst of all, It's Hot Up Here. These people have been stuck in the same poses for almost a century and they're sick of it. It is now 1984 and Georges' work is on exhibition in America, where his and Dot's daughter Marie, as old as the painting, have come to see it.
With her is her grandson, another George, another artist. Although he's never really believed that the woman in the picture is his grandmother, his latest commission, a big white electrical machine with a sphere on top called Chromolume #7, is his own way of commemorating the famous painting. After some technical hitches, the machine finally functions and George and Marie narrate the history of Georges Seurat. After the performance the museum's Director announces that the new condominium development above the gallery is now open for viewing. The inconsequential chit-chat is depressing, but necessary. Link by link, drink by drink, clink by clink, George is Putting It Together - making the deal so that he can finish the art: connections lead to commissions lead to exhibitions. As the glittering guests drift off to dinner, Marie looks at her mother in the painting, remembering what she said about Children and Art and trying to relate her to her young grandson.
But Marie dies and George is invited to present his Chromolume in Paris. The island of La Grande Jatte is now a cacophony of concrete towers and the park his supposed great-grandfather painted has dwindled away to a tiny patch of grass. George has his great-grandmother's old grammar book and is idly intoning Lesson #8: "Charles has a book..." "Marie has the ball of Charles..." George misses Marie. And, as he thinks of her, Dot appears.
Despite his protestations that he has nothing more to say in his art, she urges him to Move On and, as he reads the words Dot's Georges scribbled in her book a century ago, the original promenaders re-convene for one more perfect Sunday. George looks again at the book: "A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities..." The stage fades to white, and Dot slowly disappears.
Georges Pierre Seurat (December 2, 1859 – March 29, 1891) was a French post-Impressionist artist. He devised the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism and used conté crayon for drawings on paper with a rough surface.
Seurat's artistic personality combined qualities that are usually thought of as opposed and incompatible: on the one hand, his extreme and delicate sensibility, on the other, a passion for logical abstraction and an almost mathematical precision of mind. His large-scale work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886) altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-Impressionism, and is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting.
Bathers at Asnières (1884)
This large picture was Seurat’s first major composition, painted when he had not yet turned 25. He intended it to be a grand statement with which he would make his mark at the official Salon in the spring of 1884, but it was rejected.
Several men and boys relax on the banks of the Seine at Asnières and Courbevoie, an industrial suburb north-west of central Paris. Shown in profile, they are as immobile as sculptures and each seems absorbed in his own thoughts, neither engaging with each other nor with us. Suffused with bright but hazy sunlight, the entire scene has an almost eerie stillness to it, as if time has been suspended and all movement temporarily frozen. In the background there is a railway bridge that partly hides a parallel road bridge, as well as the chimneys of the gas plant and factories at Clichy, where some of the men may work.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886)
“Bedlam,” “scandal,” and “hilarity” were among the epithets used to describe what is now considered Georges Seurat’s greatest work, and one of the most remarkable paintings of the nineteenth century, when it was first exhibited in Paris. Seurat labored extensively over A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, reworking the original as well as completing numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. With what resembles scientific precision, the artist tackled the issues of color, light, and form. Inspired by research in optical and color theory, he juxtaposed tiny dabs of colors that, through optical blending, form a single and, he believed, more brilliantly luminous hue. To make the experience of the painting even more intense, he surrounded the canvas with a frame of painted dashes and dots, which he, in turn, enclosed with a pure white wood frame, similar to the one with which the painting is exhibited today. The very immobility of the figures and the shadows they cast makes them forever silent and enigmatic. Like all great masterpieces, La Grande Jatte continues to fascinate and elude.