Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George

The first time I saw a musical that used projections to create a backdrop it was absolutely dreadful. I mean the musical itself was dreadful--The Woman in White in London--but the projections were as well. Anyway, I left that show thinking, "Projections are a terrible idea. Stupid new fangled technology." So after seeing Sunday in the Park with George I take it all back. Projections aren't stupid; doing projections badly is stupid. I do think it helps also to be using projections in a musical that centers around the creation of a two-dimensional work. Rather than a gimmick it comes off as an illumination of the subject. It's like the projections allow you to see the world the way the artist is seeing it--as something beautiful and malleable.

The central characters--George of the 19th century and George of the 20th--are men trying to make a connection with the world through the act of looking and creating art from the things they are looking at broken down into the basic components of color and light. As an exploration of an artist and his world the first half is brilliant. The second half, set in the eighties art world seems to me to be rather less interesting, although still well done.

What consistently amazes me about Sondheim is his ability to express complex concepts in song. While I'm admittedly far from an expert on musical theater, I just can't think of anybody who does it better. In response to his mother lamenting the changes she has seen, George sings:
All things are beautiful
All trees, all towers
That tower-
Beautiful, Mother
A perfect tree

Pretty isn't beautiful, Mother
Pretty is what changes
What the eye arranges
Is what is beautiful
It's the expression of an artistic philosophy in two stanzas. It feels natural and easy when Sondheim does it but it's incredible in it's simplicity. Likewise, Sunday, which closes both acts, has a feeling of completeness and--I don't quite know how to describe it. Regardless, it's wonderfully satisfying. As is the production as a whole.

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