Early on in the process of directing Sunday in the Park with George for the Bloomington Civic Theatre, Karen Weber was asked what her concept for the Stephen Sondheim musical would be.
"I was taken aback. It's already a concept show. The instruction to the artistic team and all the designers was that I really wanted the show to serve the purpose of what it is about," she says.
The show, with a book by James Lapine, looks at French painter Georges Seurat and the creation of one of his famous paintings, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte. In act two, the action moves forward to modern times and examines the artistic crisis of his great-grandson, also named George.
"Sunday in the Park with George is a technical monster on its own," Weber says. "It has a very specific look because it is predicated on a painting. It is a rather well-known painting, so it is tough to fudge that."
|Photo courtesy Bloomington Civic Theatre|
Beyond that, Weber wanted to make sure the production resonates with the audience. "It always gets a bad rap of being too intellectual and not emotional. I do not see it that way. I always see it as an emotional show."
That starts with how the actors approach the piece. "It has been a challenging effort for some of them. Many times, actors who audition for Sunday, or other Sondheim, are more singers than actors," Weber says. "First and foremost, they need to be present in the context of the scene, and to be in service to that instead of the other way around. It's rewarding to watch these performers who don't consider themselves actors grow as actors."
The production has some aspects that aren't always heard, as it is using the full Broadway orchestration with live instruments. "The sound of that is just incredible. When we first sat down and the cast got to hear the actual voicing of the score, and then they sang 'Sunday,' there wasn't a dry eye in the place," Weber says.
The music, acting, and singing are only part of the collaboration. Bringing out the artistic side of the piece has been an important task for the designers and crew, such as crafting an animated, charcoal-drawing-like sequence for a pair of dogs at play.
All of this fits together in service to the audience -- something Sondheim would appreciate.
It's all "to help the audience. This isn't a linear story. And when we jump ahead 100 years, it's not Brigadoon," Weber says.
IF YOU GO:
Sunday in the Park With George
Friday through November 17
Bloomington Center for the Arts
1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington
For info, call 952.563.8575 or visit online
1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington, MN