Thursday, February 23, 2017

You make it beautiful

Tonight marks the official opening of the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George. Some just released photos showcase the stunning production and its cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Annaleigh Ashford and Penny Fuller.

The response from preview audiences has been as enthusiastic as the concert reaction in October. We'll post the official reviews as they come in tomorrow night.

Break a leg, all!

An early review:

"Jake Gyllenhaal is divine! Sublime! Amazing! Transporting!" -Bobbyanna

"Sunday in the Park - with #JakeGyllenhaal and #AnnaleighAshford is sublime beyond words. Don't miss it." -Barbara Hoffman, Arts Editor, NY Post, @BHoffman_NYPost

#JakeGyllenhaal in @SundayBroadway is A+ throughout but man he's especially stunning in "Beautiful" with Penny Fuller. 😢🙌 -@PaulWontorek, Founding and Editor-in-Chief of @Broadwaycom

Edited review round-up courtesy of

Ben Brantley, The New York Times, (A) Living Painting to Make You See: He is a thorny soul, a man neither happy nor particularly kind, and not someone you'd be likely to befriend. But when the 19th-century French painter Georges Seurat, reincarnated in the solitary flesh by a laser-focused Jake Gyllenhaal, demands that you look at the world as he does, it's impossible not to fall in love. Or something deeper than love - closer to religious gratitude - is the sentiment you may experience in the finale that concludes the first act of the marvelous revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Sunday in the Park With George," which opened on Thursday night at the newly restored Hudson Theater.

David Cote, Time Out NY, Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing in Sunday in the Park with George: As far as human effects, you will be suitably swept away by Gyllenhaal's passionately acted, exquisitely articulated George, the most psychologically cohesive and sympathetic rendition I've witnessed live. (Mandy Patinkin on video will always remain the gold standard.) Comical and tender by turns, Ashford provides the flashes of light where Gyllenhaal turns inward to shadow.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: A concert staging at City Center last fall of Stephen Sondheim's 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Sunday in the Park With George" went swimmingly, with Jake Gyllenhaal in the titular role of Georges Seurat, raising hopes for an extended engagement. The theater gods heard, and the re-mounted show is back for a commercial run in one of Broadway's historic jewels, the newly restored Hudson Theater. Under the direction of Sarna Lapine, the staging is more theatrically structured than it was at City Center, with its stools and lecterns. But even as retooled, the show retains the quality of serene simplicity that heightens the poignant beauty of the score. Gyllenhaal returns in the leading role, his acting chops intact, but his voice refreshed and enhanced by what must have been professional coaching.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Nevertheless, their names will not soon disappear from the thoughts of Tony voters come spring, for what was clear when the show was presented last October is more so today: This is a spectacular revival and the principals are simply breathtakingly good. The performances are assured - indeed, they've only grown in confidence. Moreover, the semi-staging by Lapine's niece, Sarna Lapine, with musical staging by Ann Yee, reveals (as if we needed reminding), one of the most beautiful, moving and endlessly inventive scores ever written, not to mention the equally ambitious and rewarding book that frames it.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: The creation of harmony out of disharmony and coherence out of chaos are among the themes of Sunday in the Park With George. However, in fortifying for Broadway what was already a probing interpretation of this complex 1984 musical diptych by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, first seen in a New York City Center concert staging last fall, the production has elevated an affecting work into something quite rare and exquisite. Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford bring richer shadings and startling emotional candor to their dual roles, supported by a gifted ensemble that embodies the notion of great art being born out of multiple influences nourishing a unique vision.

Matt Windman, amNY: This revival (directed by Sarna Lapine, niece of James Lapine) originated as a concert staging at City Center. With the exception of an elaborate light sculpture sequence, it is a simple presentation that lacks the visual thrills of the original production or the 2008 Broadway revival. However, storytelling is focused and the score (played by a full orchestra) sounds as glorious as ever. Compared with other actors who have played the role, Gyllenhaal's Georges is sensitive, wounded and even sympathetic.

Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News: Jake Gyllenhaal's got it, by George! A handsome, nimble singing voice to go with his solid acting chops, that is. It's all on exhibition in Broadway's wonderful revival of "Sunday in the Park with George" at the newly renovated Hudson Theatre. This Pulitzer-winning musical by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book writer James Lapine premiered 33 years ago. Its power to stir the heart and head with its radiant score and unfading story about the art of making art - and love - is as strong as ever.

Allison Adato, Entertainment Weekly: But one need not know Seurat to enjoy this enchanting production. Jake Gyllenhaal, bearded and intense with a rich singing voice, makes the character understood immediately: He is an artist blinded to life's joys by his own work ethic, even as he spends his days observing other people at their leisure. (George is not a total prig, however, and Gyllenhaal lets loose with some silly business singing the voices of two dogs in the painting.) By contrast, the pointillist's model and lover, the aptly named Dot, played with an endearing blend of comic sparkle and pathos by Annaleigh Ashford, wants the simple pleasures of going to the Follies and eating cream puffs. But she cannot pull George from his studio, and - practical girl that she is - may take up with the baker who keeps her in dough.

Nicole Serratore, The Stage: Jake Gyllenhaal has proven in plays, on and off Broadway (Constellations, If There is I Haven't Found It Yet), that he is an adroit stage actor. In his Broadway musical debut in Sunday in the Park with George, he demonstrates he can sing a notoriously challenging Sondheim score very well too. Gyllenhaal plays George Seurat, the artist too obsessed with his work to hold onto love. Annaleigh Ashford is Dot, his adoring model. She's full of comedic verve and is shattered by Dot's disappointments. Gyllenhaal's performance is one of quiet brooding and delicate anguish. He gives an achingly beautiful, self-reflective rendition of Finishing the Hat. His voice does not have the depth of some but he elucidates George's pain in his performance.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Sunday in the Park with George, which opens tonight in a bare-bones but beautiful-enough Broadway revival starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, is both a deconstruction and an example of that duality. A deconstruction because Lapine's book, among the brainiest ever written for a musical, works innumerable trenchant variations on the theme of sacrifice for art. The show is also a demonstration of that theme, because Sondheim's songs are so profound that they feel, even while unspooling in unbroken threads of human longing, as if they had left the realm of lived experience and entered a Keatsian plane of absolute truth-beauty far above our own. The lyrics constantly delight the ear while also dramatizing, in that very delight, the way art both exalts and erases. "Rapturous" and "capture us" are like the jaws of a trap snapping shut.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Broadway Triumph: Gyllenhaal is excellent; his voice soulful and scarred, so lost in his work and himself he barely looks up. His first act tour de force is to play at being a dog, leaping around on all fours, panting, for “The Day Off,” kvetching about being “stuck all week on a lady's lap/nothing to do but yawn and nap./Can you blame me if I yap?/There’s only so much attention a dog can take.”

In this terrific production—by which I mean everything and everyone involved it is terrific—Georges’s phrase “finishing the hat” not only encapsulates all of what an artist seeks for in his or her pursuits, Sondheim himself later used his own phrase in two volumes of work interrogating all of these questions, and it used most piercingly here, with Seurat himself wielding his paint-brush and training his eye. The set design is as simple as an artist’s studio: a piece of cloth, stretching across the back of a stage, acts as both canvas in gestation and completion. There are, as in other productions, delightful cutouts of dogs.

Linda Winer, Newsday, Jake Gyllenhaal, Annaleigh Ashford are transcendent: Every once in a rare while, the theater rewards us with a kind of transcendent experience, a feeling that this, surely, will never happen again - at least not remotely in the same way. My once-in-a-lifetime theory is being crushed - exquisitely, rapturously - right now as Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford step up alongside Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the treasured place where I keep memories of the original "Sunday in the Park With George." They are that good.

But the movie star also can sing. In two of musical theater’s most exacting roles, he brings a pungent lyric tenor, elegant taste and a purity of tone as precise as the points of color in Seurat’s vast pointillist painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte,” which we watch him create. Oh, and he yaps both sides of a conversation between dogs.

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: Gyllenhaal is very good; so good, in fact, that we needn't say "very good for a movie actor." George-James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's musicalized version of the pointillist painter Georges Seurat-is an introverted and anti-social fellow, who seems to only find comfort when he is at canvas or sketchpad. Gyllenhaal, while properly self-absorbedly as he perennially tries to "finish the hat," gives George an inner gleam of vulnerability and sensitivity which is sometimes overlooked in the role. (Hidden in the script is the comment that the women "all wanted him and hated him at the same time.") Gyllenhaal shows us this inner layer, which has not always been visible in past productions, and properly carries it over to the 20th century George in Chicago.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: Can he? Why, yes, he can.

Sing Sondheim, that is! Sure enough, Jake Gyllenhaal pulls another exemplary credential out of his expanding portfolio, investing brooding magnetism into the role of a misunderstood master of French Impressionism in the new Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Sunday in the Park With George.”

In a springtime of illustrious leading ladies on Broadway — Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly!,” Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in “War Paint,” Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” among others — Gyllenhaal adds vital, measurable wattage on the masculine half of the musical ledger. Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen” and Josh Groban of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” have earned popularity, too, in other spheres and are front-runners for Tony nominations. But Gyllenhaal is the only bona fide male movie star doing the acting-and-singing thing on the theater world’s biggest platform this season (even as the producers of “Sunday in the Park,” with its limited run, opted to take the show out of the Tony running).

And here, playing opposite Annaleigh Ashford in an extraordinarily well-cast revival that had its official opening Thursday night at the Hudson Theatre, Gyllenhaal cements the impression of legitimate vocalist he made in a shorter-lived stage outing, as Seymour in a 2015 concert version of “Little Shop of Horrors” for City Center’s Encores! series. Gyllenhaal and Ashford create the kind of lust-driven connection that just may rise above the memorable heat generated by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the original 1984 production, for which Sondheim and Lapine won the Pulitzer Prize. ...

Chiefly through Gyllenhaal's performance - at once intense and emotionally transparent - this version makes clearer than ever the incisive emotional channel from Act 1 to Act 2. In each half of the musical, too, there is a visual coup, in the form of an example of each artist's work. At the end of Act 1, it's the thrilling tableau of Seurat's painting come to life. And in Act 2, it's a demonstration of the artist's experiments with color and light in the form of a laser display that he calls a "chromolume."

Christopher Kelly, For the newest Broadway revival, though, we get not just humanity and warmth, but intimacy, tenderness, bursts of humor, and flashes of tremendous beauty -- we get, in effect, as accomplished a production of "Sunday in the Park with George" as we are likely to ever see. Headlined by a very impressive Jake Gyllenhaal (yes, he really can sing), and an altogether stupendous Annaleigh Ashford, what could be a mere exercise in coy postmodernism becomes something moving and true.

Diane Snyder, Telegraph: Gyllenhaal and Ashford harmonize not only when they're singing - Move On is a heart-tugging highlight - but also when George and Dot just gaze lovingly yet uncomprehendingly at each other. (It's a shame they won't be eligible for Tony Awards; the short run prompted producers not to invite voters.) But it's Sunday, the signature song that closes both acts, that brings down the house as the ensemble re-creates Seurat's painting.

Tyler Coates, Esquire: It's easy to understand why Dot loves Seurat, especially when he's played by the handsome Gyllenhaal, who has quietly revealed himself to be a musical theater nerd with acclaimed performances in staged concert versions of Sunday in the Park last year and Little Shop of Horrors in 2015. Gyllenhaal brings a subtle intensity to his performance, particularly in his rendition of "Finishing the Hat," arguably Sondheim's most brilliant piece of music, and the most emblematic of this musical and of the creative struggle as a whole: Sondheim described the song as being about "that phenomenon of losing the world while writing (or painting or composing or doing a crossword puzzle or coming to a difficult decision that requires intense and complete concentration)."

Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway: An artist whose brilliance goes unheralded because of other people's inability to put him into any of their conventional boxes? Though this certainly describes the version of French Impressionist painter Georges Seurat who resides at the center of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Sunday in the Park With George, in many ways it also applies to the star of the beautiful if low-key revival of the show that just opened at the recently renovated Hudson: Jake Gyllenhaal.

After all, this is an actor who has been a legitimate movie star for most of the 2000s to date (and who was not unknown before that), and whose screen career, in the wake of films like Southpaw and Nightcrawler, is only accelerating. But although his stage work has been acclaimed, both Off-Broadway (his debut was in If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet for Roundabout in 2012) and on (Constellations, 2015), Gyllenhaal is rarely considered a "natural" rather than someone who's merely visiting.

If there's any justice, this production will change that. Those who were lucky enough to see the City Center Encores! benefit concert in October where Gyllenhaal first tackled the role know that he's thoroughly qualified for heading this 1984 musical, and as capable of doing justice to Sondheim's challenging songs as Lapine's intricate scenes. And now, in this scaled-up translation, he's even better.

He throws himself totally into Georges's obsessions and idiosyncrasies without losing grip on the gentle soul who resides beneath them. You feel the heat of his drive when he's toiling away at the painting that will become his masterwork, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," in which he's pushed to the brink of madness by his pursuit of science-inspired perfection (his style, Pointillism, involves using countless specks of paint to create colors more vivid than traditional brushstrokes can), and that's critical to unpacking Georges; "I am not hiding behind my canvas," he says at one point, "I am living in it."

But unlike every other actor I've seen play the role, Gyllenhaal projects the knowledge—or at least the suspicion—that he might be losing something when he steps into the so-called "real world." He's almost visibly pulled between his art and his model, Dot (Annaleigh Ashford), and though he's always prone to choose the former, for this Georges the choice is seldom easy. It's not that he wants to compromise, per se, but that, beneath his professional aspirations, there's a tiny ember he may also want to fan into a different, but no less intense, flame.

Gyllenhaal develops this idea to its furthest extent in the second act when he plays Georges's great-grandson, George, an inventor-sculptor in the early 1980s, and who faces many of the same roadblocks while traveling down a very different artistic road. No other actor I've encountered has made the relationship between the two clearer, despite pulling no punches in presenting Georges as impenetrably hard-edged and George as softer and more contemplative. The artist-muse story is fully satisfying, but we also see how the two generations of artist need and feed each other just as much as George and Dot did when, in Gyllenhaal's hand, the two fuse into one eternal being at the instant dedication and inspiration finally reunite. Act II, which in some circles is less admired than Act I (some people don't believe it should exist at all), has never been more essential or more moving.

Could Gyllenhaal go further still? Yes. His tone is muted early on, and takes a few scenes to even out. And although his singing is surprisingly strong throughout the rangy songs (which, as far as I can tell, are in their original keys), his vocals could be more confident during the more contemplative numbers. But he unlocks so much earnest passion in "Color and Light" and "Finishing the Hat" (as Georges) and "Putting It Together" and "Lesson #8" (as George), that any complaints are ultimately little more than Monday morning quarterbacking. In every way that counts, he couldn't be more committed. ...

With his superb portrayal of those two men, Gyllenhaal brings, as Georges aspires, "order to the whole" in a way that dispels most nitpicking. You simultaneously love and hate the men, and you embrace and reject them, but above all you understand him in a way you haven't been able to before. What's more, you want to connect these dots and others and decipher the creation as well as the creator—on as many levels as you can in the time you have. It's a marvelous accomplishment that so accentuates every color that your brain and your heart will be just as pleased as your eyes.

Time Square Chronicles, He Says: First and foremost, Jake Gyllenhaal is spectacular in the role. Once again, he is devastatingly good right from the beginning. His last go at it at Encores! had the disadvantage of the shortest possible rehearsal schedule one can imagine, and even with that going against him, his performance of this challenging role was impressive. Now, with more rehearsal and a tighter enhanced production, he has only grown more into the dense complicated role of George. Sometimes the depth of character and tone in his voice actually reminds me of Patinkin as he carries a similar richness. His precision is never more apparent than during the complex song, ‘Putting it Together’. It’s the most demanding song of the show, and he attacks it with vigor. Also, his ‘Finishing the Hat‘ is one of the most heartfelt and layered performances I have heard of that incredibly emotional song. His George has more play and gentleness than any of the other Georges I have seen, while still maintaining the tortured focused artist. It is a tremendous feat he has accomplished here, rivaling his predecessors valiantly, and sometimes even besting them. ...

In the end though, it really comes down to the final song, ‘Move On‘. And as these two musical stars showed us in ‘Color and Light’ and ‘We Do Not Belong Together’ they do in fact belong together on that stage. They both have given us quite the gift, bringing back this masterpiece to Broadway in such beautiful order, design, composition, form, symmetry, tension, balance, light, and most importantly of all, harmony.

She Says: The show has always had it’s faults. In the 1984 production, the second act just never worked and you never quite understood why Dot loved George. The same with the 2004 and 2008 version. Sondheim’s glorious lyrics and hauntingly spectacular music drew theatre lovers, because it is musical poetry. The musical language seeps into your soul, seers it and you are never the same. With Jake Gyllenhaal as George, your heart aches with his entrapment into color and light. His obsession with his work, tugs at his wanting to connect to Dot and others. He is brooding, he is magnetic and we fall like Dot, in love. Gyllenhaal vocals are impeccable. He understands musical nuances and brings such passion and longing to the role.

As Dot, Annaleigh Ashford brings humor and a flirtatious quality that makes her more human. Ashford and Gyllenhaal generate heat and intimacy so the loss of their love in the 1980’s, makes a greater impact in 2017. Now the second act has past lives colliding with their present incarnations and it is fulfilling. ...

I could see this production every night of it’s run and never tire of its beauty and effect on my soul. This is why I review theatre.

The revival is playing at the newly restored Hudson Theatre, Broadway's oldest venue. The first two beautiful photos are courtesy of Carter Thompson on Instagram:

Jake posted this on his Facebook page. I think it is also displayed in the theater - or was for opening night:

Leave it to Steven Sondheim to bring Neon back. These are his beautiful words from #SundayInTheParkWithGeorge. They lift me up every time the incredible Annaleigh Ashford sings them to me on stage. May they inspire you too.

(Drawing by Justin “Squigs” Robertson.