Stage: Sunday’s Best

‘Sunday in the Park’ is mostly good summer entertainment

San Francisco Playhouse is celebrating summer with Sunday in the Park with George.

In the mid to late 1880s, as the impressionist movement was beginning to wane among French painters, young Georges Seurat and his friend Paul Signac began to experiment with a new technique based on the idea that the eye would convert bunched dots into images more faithfully than conventional brush strokes. The “pointillist” approach didn’t find favor and Seurat was unable to sell any of his 12 known major paintings before his death in 1891 at the age of 31.

Among those originally scorned canvases, the one that today is considered a true masterpiece is a lively beach scene, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. A century later, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine explored Seurat’s creative process and the effect it had on his personal relationships. Their effort—which invokes the spirit of pointillism in Sondheim’s up-tempo score—has had a similar trajectory as their subject: revered by some, largely ignored by mainstream American musical theater.

Briefly put, the main problem is the undramatic, if fascinating, discussions between the painter and his mistress over their divergent personal priorities. Seurat (John Bambery) is driven by his art; Dot (Nanci Zoppi), his lover and favorite model, longs to be treated as a human being with needs of her own, rather than just an accessory.

To overcome the thin storyline, any production of Sunday needs to excel in its visual, acting and musical elements. In this respect, the current playhouse production doesn’t disappoint. Bambery and Zoppi head an excellent cast of singer-actors who make the most of Sondheim’s intricate songs. For summer entertainment, Sunday in the Park might be just the ticket.

After 28 years of reviewing, I’m putting down the pen. Happy theater-going.

‘Sunday in the Park with George’ runs through Sept. 8 at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., San Francisco. 415.677.9596.

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