Point Park scores big with ‘rock-solid,’ “Sunday in the Park With George”

By March 21, 2019 No Comments

Alex Fetzko as George (PhotoL John Altrdorfer)

By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic

The Pittsburgh Playhouse, after having moved from their well-worn space in Oakland last September to a sparkly new downtown building with three different stages, finally opens the largest, a super deluxe proscenium space, with one of the 20th century’s major musicals – the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George featuring a book by James Lapine with music and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim. They’ve also brought in Broadway veteran Michael Rupert to direct the Conservatory Theatre Company of Point Park University.

Sunday in the Park with George continues through March 24 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. 305 Forbes Avenue, Downtown. 412/392-8200.

The first act is a fictionalized retelling of a real-life event: In the late 1800’s, French impressionist Georges Seurat spent two years creating his Pointillist masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” In this musical we watch George (notice the missing “s”) and his obsessive devotion to the painting at the expense of everything else, including his mistress and model Dot. He loves her … but what’s that compared to art? Or, rather, Art!?!

Act Two jumps ahead to 1984. Here we meet George’s great grandson, also called George. Like George 1.0, George 2.0 is also an artist but has become so swamped by the business of art he’s lost his vision of what art means to him. The show’s breathtaking finale puts it all together when the George of the present finds inspiration in the George of the past.

Sunday is testament to the improbability of art and the liberation that comes when it does happen. This show contains my favorite Sondheim lyric; George is looking through his preliminary sketches he’s done and sings “Look I made a hat/Where there never was a hat.” No writer I can think of has ever summed up the mind-boggling act of creation in such embarrassingly simple terms.

The show also contains what I consider the most beautiful piece of music ever written by anyone anywhere – the song “Sunday” which closes both acts and, if done right, reduces me to a quivering mass of sloppy tears.

My scarf should be dried out by next week. This is a rock-solid production of one of the most gorgeous entries in the musical theater cannon.

Musical director Camille Rolla and her orchestra, Michael Montgomery’s costumes and Johnmichael Bohach’s set lit by Andrew David Ostrowski bring to the stage all the color and light sung about in the show. And Rupert, along with associate director Zeva Barzell, do exemplary work focusing the cast – and the audience – on a story which, in less practiced hands, could be sprawling and disconnected.

Rachel Cahoon, as Dot, possesses an astounding set of pipes and flings her numbers up to the sky; how can such a young and fairly petite kid sing with such power?

I can think of few things more thrilling than the work Alex Fetzko does as George. The character, if truth be told, is something of a cliché (Look! Another cold and tortured male artist!) But Fetzko forcibly pulls us into George’s pain, his crushing mania and desire/inability to form human connections; this performance is something I’m going to remember for a long time. When Fetzko and Cahoon come together for their duet “Move On” it’s both heartbreaking and celebratory.

Lielle Kaidar and Kayla Nicosia provide several touching moments as Old Lady and Marie, Jeremy Spoljarick and Pierre Mballa bring their talents in supporting roles, Yael Karoly, Kurt Kemper, Courteney McClutchy … well, I could just name every member of this truly remarkable cast but the more time you spend reading this the less time you’ll have to make your reservations.


Sunday in the Park with George continues through March 24 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. 305 Forbes Avenue, Downtown. 412/392-8200.

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