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The Striking Success of Sunday in the Park with George at the Pasadena Playhouse

Impeccably executed with a fantastic cast, beautiful costumes, and clever sets, the Stephen Sondheim musical revival is not to be missed.

By John Lavitt

Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 02/25/23 – As directed by Sarna Lapine at the Pasadena Playhouse, Sunday in the Park with George is a striking success for the theatre’s Sondheim Celebration. Such success is not surprising upon the realization that director Sarna Lapine is the niece of James Lapine. The writer of the book, James Lapine, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985 for the musical, is perfectly in tune with the subject matter. Frequently teaming with Stephen Sondheim, the two theatrical giants created some of the finest musicals of the past twenty-five years.

Sarna Lapine brings Sunday in the Park with George to the Pasadena Playhouse after directing the 2016 concert version and the 2017 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George. Taking the musical to the next level of excellence, Sarna Lapine brings out the very best in the female characters in the story. Graham Phillips (George) and Krystina Alabado (Dot/Marie) work so well together as the leads. Rather than being dominated by the painter’s power of personality and vision, Krystina Alabado’s character reveals his human side and the profound cost of such creativity.

With a striking voice and precise acting, Krystina Alabado engenders tremendous sympathy for her character. She knows George will never marry her when she becomes pregnant, so she is forced to find another man. Marrying a sweet but bland baker, she knows the union will never contain the fire and inspiration she felt with George. After all, George taught her to concentrate, staying in the moment, and becoming part of the world’s ever-present reality.

Although George Seurat painted works that stand among the most inventive and striking examples of French post-impressionism, he sacrificed love and family to focus on his paintings. The painter died in Paris in his parents’ home on 29 March 1891 at 31, and his exact cause of death remains a mystery. Over 170 artworks by the painter survive, including A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which is considered his masterpiece and the musical’s centerpiece. However, despite participating in multiple exhibitions, George Seurat never achieved great success selling his work during his lifetime and bitterly lived off funds from his wealthy family. At the same time, his family’s wealth allowed him to focus on his work.

As George, Graham Phillips expresses a passion for painting and a desperate need to be precise in his efforts. Indeed, never has the artistic endeavor to create honestly been so well-represented on stage. There is a revelatory feeling about his discoveries as he discovers and assembles the composition for his timeless painting. The act of creation is enhanced by a sparkling ensemble company of perfectly cast actors. From top to bottom, the performances and the voices are superb. Such exemplary support takes the production to the next level of excellence.

Cast of Sunday in the Park with George (Photo: Jeff Lorch)

Without question, Pasadena Playhouse has gone all out to put on a lavish production of Sunday in the Park with George. From costumes to scenery, music to company size, everything is nothing less than top-notch. If you are considering attending a musical this year in Southern California, you cannot go wrong with this admirable celebration of Stephen Sondheim.