Sunday in the Park with George

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For the Desperate Housewives episode, see Sunday in the Park with George (Desperate Housewives).
Sunday in the Park with George
Sunday in the Park Original Playbill.jpg
Original Broadway Playbill Cover
Music Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Book James Lapine
Basis Georges Seurat's painting
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Productions 1984 Broadway
1986 U.S. television
1990 West End
1994 Broadway concert
2006 West End revival
2008 Broadway revival
Awards 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
1985 Drama Desk Outstanding Musical
1985 Drama Desk Outstanding Book
1985 Drama Desk Outstanding Lyrics
1991 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical
2007 Olivier Outstanding Musical

Sunday in the Park with George is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical was inspired by the painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat. A complex work revolving around a fictionalized Seurat immersed in single-minded concentration while painting his masterpiece and the people in that picture, the Broadway production opened in 1984.

The musical won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, two Tony Awards for design (and a nomination for Best Musical), numerous Drama Desk Awards, the 1991 Olivier Award for Best Musical and the 2007 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production. It has enjoyed several major revivals, including the 2005-06 UK production first presented at the Menier Chocolate Factory and its subsequent 2008 Broadway transfer.


A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Act I

In 1884, Georges Seurat, known as George in the musical, is sketching studies for his famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." His longtime mistress, Dot, models for him despite her frustrations ("Sunday in the Park with George"). Meanwhile an Old Lady and her Nurse discuss how Paris is changing to accommodate a tower for the International Exposition. The setting abruptly changes to an art gallery, where Seurat's first painting is on display. Jules (a more successful artist friend of George's) and his wife Yvonne think George's work has "No Life". Back on the island, Jules and Yvonne have a short discussion with George and depart. They take their coachman Franz with them, interrupting Franz's rendezvous with the Nurse.

In George's studio he works on his painting while Dot prepares for their date at the Follies ("Color and Light"). In the end George chooses to continue painting instead, greatly upsetting Dot.

In the park George sketches a grumpy Boatman. Dot enters on the arm of Louis, a baker. Two chatting shop girls, both named Celeste, notice Dot with a new man ("Gossip"). George sketches two dogs while whimsically trying to imagine the world from their perspective ("The Day Off"). Jules and Yvonne enter during the song and mock the unconventional nature of George's art. They protest an initiative to have his work included in the next group show. The two Celestes try to attract the attention of a handsome Soldier and his companion; Franz and his wife Frieda argue with Jules and Yvonne's daughter, Louise; Jules returns to further lecture George on his shortcomings as an artist; the Boatman reappears to rebuke the condescending attitude of artists. Dot misses George, but feels justified in having chosen Louis instead ("Everybody Loves Louis"). The two Celestes fight over the more handsome of the two soldiers ("The One on the Left").

As the park empties for the evening, George returns. He misses Dot and laments that his art has alienated him from those important to him, but resigns himself to the likelihood that creative fulfillment may always take precedence, for him, over personal happiness ("Finishing the Hat").

At the studio Dot tells George that she is pregnant, and that she and Louis are getting married and leaving for America. She asks for a painting George made of her, but he refuses. Jules and Yvonne come to the studio. Yvonne and Dot talk about the difficulties of trying to maintain a romantic relationship with an artist, while Jules and George discuss George's painting in progress. Jules is puzzled by George's new technique, and concerned that George's obsession with his work is alienating him from his fellow artists and collectors alike. Jules and Yvonne leave, and Dot and George argue bitterly about their failed relationship, concluding sadly that ("We Do Not Belong Together").

In the park George and his mother, the Old Lady, reminisce ("Beautiful"). The Celestes and the Soldier argue over their respective break-ups while Jules and Frieda enter to have a clandestine affair in the park. Louise informs her mother, Yvonne, of her father's infidelity and a fight breaks out between Jules, Yvonne, Franz, and Frieda. While this conflict develops the Celestes and the Soldier squabble noisily. Soon all the park-goers are fighting furiously, until the Old Lady shouts, "Remember, George!" George takes control of the subjects of his painting, who sing in harmony ("Sunday"). George transforms all of the people into the final tableau of his finished painting.

Act II

As the curtain opens the characters – still in the tableau – complain about being stuck in the painting ("It's Hot Up Here"). The characters deliver short eulogies for George, who died suddenly at 31.

The action fast-forwards one hundred years to 1984. George and Dot's great-grandson, also named George and also a struggling artist, is at a museum unveiling his latest work: a color and light machine called ("Chromolume #7"), an artistic reflection on the painting from the first act. Marie, the new George's grandmother and the first George and Dot's daughter, helps with the presentation. At a reception various patrons and curators congratulate George on his work while George comments about the difficulties of producing modern art ("Putting It Together"). After the museum's patrons have left Marie contemplates her legacy ("Children and Art").

Weeks later, Marie has died and George has been invited by the French government to do a presentation of the Chromolume on the island where the painting was made. On the island George reads from a book he got from his grandmother – the same book Dot used to learn to read – and ponders the similarities between himself and his great-grandfather ("Lesson #8"). A vision of Dot appears and discusses 'her' book with George. Dot tells George to stop worrying about his critics ("Move On"). George finds some words written in the back of the book – the words George often muttered while he worked. As George reads them aloud the characters from the painting fill the stage and recreate their tableau ("Sunday"). As they leave and the stage resembles a blank canvas, George reads: "White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities."


Following the failure and scathing critical reception of Merrily We Roll Along in 1981 (the show closed after 16 performances), Sondheim announced his intention to leave the musical theatre to write mystery novels.[citation needed] He was persuaded by Lapine to return to the theatrical world after the two were inspired by "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", the masterpiece of the French pointillist painter Georges Seurat. Lapine noted that one major figure was missing from the canvas: the artist himself.[1] This observation provided the springboard for the creation of "Sunday" and the production evolved into a meditation on art, emotional connection and community.

The musical fictionalizes the life of Seurat. In fact none of his children survived beyond infancy and he had no grandchildren. Seurat's common-law wife was Madeleine Knobloch, who gave birth to his two sons, the second after his death. Unlike Dot in the musical, Knobloch was living with Seurat when he died and she did not emigrate to America. She died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 35.[2]


Original Off-Broadway production[edit]

The show opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, in July 1983 and ran for 25 performances. Only the first act was performed and even that was still in development. The first act was fleshed out and work began on the second during that time and the complete two-act show was premièred during the last three performances.[3] After seeing the show at Playwrights, composer Leonard Bernstein wrote to his friend Sondheim, calling the show "brilliant, deeply conceived, canny, magisterial and by far the most personal statement I've heard from you thus far. Bravo.".[4] Kelsey Grammer (Young Man on the Bank and Soldier), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Celeste #2) and Christine Baranski (Clarisse, who was later renamed Yvonne) were in the company of the off-Broadway production but did not continue with the show to Broadway.[5]

Original Broadway production[edit]

The musical transferred to the Booth Theatre on Broadway on May 2, 1984. The second act was finalised and the show was "frozen" only a few days before the opening.

Directed by Lapine, Patinkin and Peters starred, with scenic design by Tony Straiges, costume design by Patricia Zipprodt and Ann Hould-Ward, and lighting by Richard Nelson.

When Sunday opened on Broadway it received mixed responses from critics. The New York Times theatre critic, Frank Rich, wrote: "I do know... that Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine have created an audacious, haunting and, in its own intensely personal way, touching work. Even when it fails - as it does on occasion - Sunday in the Park is setting the stage for even more sustained theatrical innovations yet to come."[6] The musical enjoyed a healthy box office, though the show would ultimately lose money; it closed on October 13, 1985 after 604 performances and 35 previews.

Although it was considered a brilliant artistic achievement for Sondheim and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, it won only two, both for design. (The major winner of the night was Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles. In his acceptance speech Herman noted that the "simple, hummable tune" was still alive on Broadway, a remark some perceived as criticism of Sondheim's pointillistic score. Herman has since denied that that was his intent.)[7] Sunday won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical and Sondheim and Lapine were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of only eight musicals to win the Pulitzer.

On May 15, 1994, the original cast of Sunday in the Park with George returned to Broadway for a tenth anniversary concert, which was also a benefit for "Friends in Deed".

Original London production[edit]

The first London production opened at the Royal National Theatre on March 15, 1990 and ran for 117 performances, with Philip Quast as George and Maria Friedman as Dot. The production was nominated for six Laurence Olivier Awards, beating Into the Woods, another collaboration between Lapine and Sondheim, to win Best New Musical. Quast won the award for Best Actor in a Musical.[8]

2005 London revival[edit]

The first revival of the show was presented at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, opening on November 14, 2005 and closing on March 17, 2006. The score was radically re-orchestrated by Jason Carr and starred Daniel Evans and Anna-Jane Casey, with direction by Sam Buntrock. The production transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End, opening on May 23, 2006 and closing on September 2, 2006. Jenna Russell replaced the unavailable Casey. The revival received six Olivier Award nominations overall, and won five in total including Outstanding Musical Production, Best Actor in a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical.

2008 Broadway revival[edit]

The 2005 London production transferred to Broadway in 2008, where it was produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and Studio 54. As a limited engagement, previews started on January 25, 2008 with an opening on February 21, 2008, running through June 29 (making this the 3rd extension).[9]

Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell (who starred in the 2005-6 London production) reprised their roles with Sam Buntrock directing. The cast included Michael Cumpsty (Jules/Bob), Jessica Molaskey (Yvonne/Naomi), Ed Dixon (Mr./Charles Redmond), Mary Beth Peil (Old Lady/Blair), and Alexander Gemignani (Boatman/Dennis).[10]

Reviewers praised the script and score as well as the innovative design, with praise for the entire cast. Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times "The great gift of this production, first staged in London two years ago, is its quiet insistence that looking is the art by which all people shape their lives. ...a familiar show shimmers with a new humanity and clarity that make theatergoers see it with virgin eyes. And while Sunday remains a lopsided piece — pairing a near-perfect, self-contained first act with a lumpier, less assured second half — this production goes further than any I’ve seen in justifying the second act’s existence."[11] As described in The New York Times "In his [Buntrock's] intimate production, live actors talk to projections, scenery darkens as day turns into night, and animation seamlessly blends into the background...In this new version, thanks to 3-D animation, the painting, currently the crown jewel of the Art Institute of Chicago, slowly comes together onstage. A sketch emerges, then color is added, and the rest gradually comes into focus, piece by piece."[12]

The Broadway production received five Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, three Drama League Award nominations and seven Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Revival of a Musical, Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Musical and Outstanding Director of a Musical. Russell and Evans also received Tony Award nominations for their performances. At the Tony Awards, Russell and Evans performed the song "Move On."

Other productions[edit]

As part of the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, the musical was presented in the Eisenhower Theatre from May 31, 2002 to June 28, 2002. Directed by Eric D. Schaeffer, the cast featured Raúl Esparza and Melissa Errico.

This play is of special significance for Chicago in that Seurat's masterpiece, the backdrop of the play, hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented the musical in 2002, directed by Gary Griffin in the more intimate, 200 seat, Upstairs Theater. In September 2012, Griffin returned to direct the play in the larger downstairs Courtyard Theater of C.S.T.. Notable in this production is the fact that in the final scene of the play, all of the cast appear in white costumes; the music for the production is supplied by a live orchestra seated above and to the rear of the actors where they can be seen by the audience. Griffin also chose to have as background for the performance a full-stage reproduction of Seurat's work which changed in both content and color to match certain moments in the play. The lead roles were played by Jason Danieley as George, Carmen Cusack as Dot, and Linda Stephens as the Old Lady.

The Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, presented a semi-staged production for three shows from September 3 to 4, 2004, with Michael Cerveris, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone and direction by Lonny Price.[13] New Line Theatre in St. Louis produced the show in 2004.[14]

The team responsible for the London revival mounted a production in April 2009 at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, featuring Hugh Panaro, Billie Wildrick, Patti Cohenour, Anne Allgood, Allen Fitzpatrick and Carol Swarbrick.[15]

The Dutch production company M-Lab presented a small-scale production of the musical from June 9 through July 3, 2010.

From April 15 through 25, 2013, the musical was performed in the English language at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, directed by Lee Blakeley featuring the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France led by David Charles Abell. George was played by Julian Ovenden. For this occasion, Michael Starobin reworked his musical arrangements, which were originally tailored to an 11-piece chamber orchestra, to match a full orchestra.[16] The production was taped for radio and TV.

In July 2013, Victorian Opera staged an acclaimed production in Melbourne, Australia, starring Alexander Lewis as Georges and Christina O'Neill as Dot.[17] It was directed by Stuart Maunder and conducted by Phoebe Briggs. 11 members from the Orchestra Victoria performed the score with Michael Starobin's original orchestrations. Audience members were required to wear 3-D glasses to view the Chromolume in Act 2.

Musical numbers[edit]


Casts of major productions[edit]

Television and video[edit]

Sunday in the Park with George was taped on October 21–25, 1985 at the Booth Theatre with most of the original Broadway cast. It was broadcast on American television on February 18, 1986 on Showtime and on June 16, 1986 on Public Television's "American Playhouse". (Bernadette Peters, who was performing in Song and Dance at the time of the taping, was given time off from that play in order to be able to tape this production.[20]) This video was released on VHS by Warner Home Video on April 1, 1992; the DVD and laserdisc was released by Image Entertainment on March 23, 1999. The DVD includes full-length commentary from Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Mandy Patinkin, and Bernadette Peters.

An audio registration of the 2013 Paris production at the Théâtre du Châtelet was broadcast on Radio France, a video registration on TV channel Mezzo TV.

A number of Desperate Housewives episodes take their names from songs or lyrics from the musical. These are episodes 1.11 - "Move On," 1.21 - "Sunday in the Park with George," 2.7 - "Color and Light," 3.20 - "Gossip", 4.5 - "Art Isn't Easy," 4.11 - "A Vision's Just a Vision," 5.10 - "Sunday," 5.14 - - "Chromolume No. 7," 8.5, "The Art of Making Art,", 8.9 - "Putting it Together" and 8.23 - "Finishing the Hat".

The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Suited for Success" has a musical number based on "Putting It Together."

Cast recordings[edit]

The 1984 original Broadway cast recording was released by RCA in 1984. The remastered recording was released on March 20, 2007 (ASIN: B0009A40KW). The recording, produced by Thomas Z. Shepard, won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Show Album.[21]

The 2006 London cast recording (with the cast of the 2005 revival) was released by PS Classics (2 disc set) on May 30, 2006 (ASIN: B000EZ9048). This is the most complete recording of the score to date. It contains a bonus track – the original, full version of "The One on the Left" (of which only a fraction survives in the final show) performed by Colley, Ellis and Hammarlund.[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1984 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Won
Outstanding Book of a Musical James Lapine Won
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Mandy Patinkin Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Bernadette Peters Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Charles Kimbrough Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical James Lapine Won
Outstanding Orchestrations Michael Starobin Won
Outstanding Lyrics Stephen Sondheim Won
Outstanding Music Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt and Ann Hould-Ward Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Richard Nelson Won
Outstanding Set Design Tony Straiges Won
Outstanding Special Effects Bran Ferren Won
Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Original Score Stephen Sondheim Nominated
Best Book of a Musical James Lapine Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Mandy Patinkin Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Bernadette Peters Nominated
Best Featured Actress in a Musical Dana Ivey Nominated
Best Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt and Ann Hould-Ward Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical James Lapine Nominated
Best Scenic Design Tony Straiges Won
Best Lighting Design Richard Nelson Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award Best Musical Won
1985 Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer Prize for Drama Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine Won

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1991 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Won
Best Actor in a Musical Philip Quast Won
Best Director of a Musical Steven Pimlott Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Maria Friedman Nominated
Best Costume Design Tom Cairns Nominated
Best Set Design Nominated

2005 London revival[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2005 Critics' Circle Theatre Award Best Designer Timothy Bird and David Farley Won
2007 Laurence Olivier Award Outstanding Musical Production Won
Best Actor in a Musical Daniel Evans Won
Best Actress in a Musical Jenna Russell Won
Best Set Design Timothy Bird and David Farley Won
Best Lighting Design Natasha Chivers and Mike Robertson Won
Best Director Sam Buntrock Nominated

2008 Broadway revival[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2008 Drama League Award Distinguished Revival of a Musical Nominated
Distinguished Performance Daniel Evans Nominated
Jenna Russell Nominated
Drama Desk Award[22] Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Daniel Evans Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Jenna Russell Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Sam Buntrock Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Jason Carr Won
Outstanding Lighting Design Ken Billington Nominated
Outstanding Projection and Video Design Timothy Bird and The Knifedge Creative Network Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Daniel Evans Nominated
Outstanding Set Design Timothy Bird and David Farley Won
Outstanding Costume Design David Farley Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Ken Billington Won
Tony Award[23] Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Daniel Evans Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Jenna Russell Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Sam Buntrock Nominated
Best Orchestrations Jason Carr Nominated
Best Scenic Design Timothy Bird and David Farley Nominated
Best Costume Design David Farley Nominated
Best Lighting Design Ken Billington Nominated
Best Sound Design Sebastian Frost Nominated


  1. ^ Zadan, Craig. Sondheim & Co.", 1986, p. 295 ISBN 0-06-015649-X
  2. ^ cdc "Death of Seurat", Jan. 2005
  3. ^ Zadan, Craig. Sondheim & Co.", 1986, pp. 303-306, ISBN 0-06-015649-X
  4. ^ Brown, Chip. "Sondheim!", Smithsonian, August 2002, 33(5)
  5. ^ Hutchins, Michael H. (compiled by)1983 Workshop, August 15, 2010(last modified)
  6. ^ Rich, Frank (1984-05-03). "STAGE: 'SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-03-21. 
  7. ^ "Ask a Star: Jerry Herman", December 8, 2004
  8. ^ "Olivier Winners 1991", accessed June 6, 2014
  9. ^ "More Color and Light: Sunday in the Park With George Extends Through June", April 7, 2008
  10. ^ "Freshly Framed, Sunday in the Park With George Revival Opens on Broadway", February 21, 2008
  11. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review: 'Sunday in the Park with George'" The New York Times, February 22, 2008
  12. ^ Zinoman, Jason."Who’s That Kid Staging Sondheim?" The New York Times, February 17, 2008
  13. ^ Gans, Andrew."McDonald-LuPone-Cerveris Sunday in the Park with George Begins Sept. 3", September 3, 2004
  14. ^ "New Line Theatre's Sunday in the Park "
  15. ^ Hetrick, Adam." Sunday in the Park with George, with Panaro, Opens at 5th Avenue Theatre April 23", April 23, 2009
  16. ^ Benzel, Jan (2013-04-18). "Supersizing a 'Sunday in the Park'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-26. 
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ Patinkin was replaced by Robert Westenberg, followed by Harry Groener. Patinkin returned to the show shortly before it closed.
  19. ^ Peters was replaced by Betsy Joslyn, followed by Maryann Plunkett.
  20. ^ New York Times, October 17, 1985, Section C; Page 25
  21. ^ Past Winners search,, accessed July 9, 2014
  22. ^ playbill article
  23. ^ Tony Awards Official site

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]