In October 2016, New York City Center presented a few performances of a concert version of Sunday in the Park With George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford. Much to my chagrin, I was unable to attend. Public and critical reception was so encouraging that a limited run was announced at the newly reopened Hudson Theatre which, after serving as a Broadway house on and off, had become an event space of sorts.
I have seen about a dozen productions of Sunday, but rarely had I seen such effective chemistry between the two leads. Gyllenhaal and Ashford are tremendously touching, which makes the ending particularly wonderful. (I’m one of the few people who like Act 2 better than Act 1. When done properly, the final scene can pack a phenomenal punch.)
Gyllenhaal’s performance is closer to Mandy Patinkin’s than the reviews had led me to believe. As for Ashford, she’s one of the few “younger” Broadway stars who actually deserve the praise being showered unto them. She is capable of making powerful connections with the audience without so much as blinking an eye; that’s the very essence of charisma.
There is hardly a weak link in the cast, but the ever wonderful Penny Fuller does a fantastic job with the roles of George’s Mother and Blair. And on top of having the best Playbill bio ever, Robert Sean Leonard shines as both Jules and Bob.
The production is simple but effective. Like most recent productions of Sunday, it relies heavily on projections — although less strikingly than the Menier Chocolate Factory production. Much of the budget seems to have gone into designing the Chromolume, which might not have been the most enlightened choice (no pun intended). For one thing, a curious audience member can easily guess what the Chromolume is going to look like by observing the theatre’s ceiling before the performance. Also, such a large-scale work probably wouldn’t attract the kind of comments that it does in the play. And, finally, it looks as if it was designed for people sitting in the dress circle and balcony; I could see people sitting in the orchestra twisting their necks trying to see what was going on above them.
But those are quibbles compared to the immense qualities of a very successful production. It’s a shame the producers decided not to submit it for Tony Awards consideration, because it would have been a strong contender in many areas.
Directed by Sarna Lapine. Music director: Chris Fenwick. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Annaleigh Ashford, Brooks Ashmanskas, Phillip Boykin, Claybourne Elder, Penny Fuller, Robert Sean Leonard, Ruthie Ann Miles, …