Axelrod PAC presents a bold new take on ‘Sunday in the Park With George’

SUNDAY in the park with george review


Graham Phillips and dancers in “Sunday in the Park With George” at The Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal.

A “dance-forward” production of “Sunday in the Park With George” is not the most obvious idea, but one that makes perfect sense once you think about it. The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 musical about Georges Seurat, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, celebrates the 19th century French pointillist painter’s artistry; Act 1 as well as Act II culminate with the actors arranging themselves like the figures in Seurat’s most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” and standing still in their positions.


Talia Suskauer in “Sunday in the Park With George.”

Seurat’s genius had to do with seeing his subjects so intensely, and rendering them so skillfully, that the finished work of art pulsates with life. (Maybe the same could be said of all artists.) “He burns you with his eyes and you’re studied like the light,” sings another character of Seurat, in the song “Color and Light.”

At the production of “Sunday in the Park With George” that will run at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal through March 24, director/choreographer Eamon Foley has dancers dance throughout the show. And in conjunction with scenic designer Ryan Howell, costume designer DW and lighting designer Paul Miller, he fills the stage with movement, bright color, and complex visual patterns.

It’s like you are seeing the world as Seurat had seen it: alive with beauty, even at its most mundane moments.

Others who help Foley bring his vision to life include Graham Phillips (of Broadway’s “13” and television’s “The Good Wife” and “Riverdale”) as Seurat, Talia Suskauer (of Broadway’s “Wicked”) as his lover and model Dot, six dancers from Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater (Lindsay Jorgensen, Giana Carroll, Alyssa Harris, Olivia Miranda, Sarah Takash and Gillian Worek) and a 12-piece orchestra.

The concept — including some clever puppetry designed by Eric Wright — is well executed, by all involved. But I have to admit, this is still a musical I have a hard time warming up to. I realize there are a lot of people who consider it among Sondheim’s greatest achievements. And I do admire the mere fact that Sondheim and Lapine had the audacity to do something so unconventional. I marvel at the fact that “Sunday in the Park With George” exists. But I don’t get swept away by it, the way I do by my favorite musicals.


Graham Phillips and cast members of “Sunday in the Park With George.”

This is not, first of all, an attempt to tell the story of Seurat’s short life (he died at 31). The late Sondheim made it clear that the character sprang from his own imagination. This Seurat represents the archetypal driven artist, so intent on making his works perfect that his relationships with other people — including Dot, who decides to leave him, in the course of Act I — are doomed to failure.

The other Act I characters, who end up in the painting, don’t have much depth to them, or perhaps Seurat just doesn’t have the time, or the patience, to interact with them on more than a superficial level.

Act II starts with the characters in the painting complaining about having to spend eternity in this way, and bickering with each other.

“It’s hot up here.”

“At least you have a parasol.”

“Well, look who’s talking, sitting in the shade.”

“I trust my cigar is not bothering you. Unfortunately, it never goes out.”


Graham Phillips and Talia Suskauer in “Sunday in the Park With George.”

Most of Act II, though, focuses on Seurat’s great-grandson George, 100 years in the future. Phillips plays George in this act. Suskauer plays Marie, who is Dot’s daughter and George’s grandmother, though she also appears as Dot again, coming to George in a vision. The other actors from Act I play different characters here, too.

In other words, everything is different, but everything is still strangely the same. George is obsessed, though not in the same way as his great-grandfather. Seurat was interested only in artistic process; George is an ambitious artist but also a businessman, convinced that networking and generating funding is also a big part of the process of getting his art seen (which Seurat, who never sold a painting, was not able to do during his lifetime). George sings:

What’s a little cocktail conversation
If it’s going to get you your foundation
Leading to a prominent commission
And an exhibition in addition?

There is some resolution at the end of Act II, when George has his vision of Dot. She gives him advice, and he hears it — truly hears it — in a way his great-grandfather never could. She tells him, among other things, “Stop worrying if your vision is new/Let others make that decision — they usually do.”

There is no question that Sondheim and Lapine’s vision was new. And that is one reason why it is so gratifying that Foley has reinvented — or, at least, modified — “Sunday in the Park With George,” to fulfill his own vision.

To conclude, I’ll just say … if you’re not a fan of “Sunday in the Park With George,” this production probably won’t change your mind. But if you are, you really owe it to yourself to see it.

The Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal will present “Sunday in the Park With George” through March 24. Visit


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