RISE & SHINE BROADWAY FANS! The 74th Annual Tony Awards is just 46 DAYS AWAY. With anticipation in the air for both Broadway’s biggest night and the return of Musical Theater returning home to the Great Bright Way, we at New York Broadway Tours continue to serenade you with previously highlighted performances from previous telecasts on our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN. It’s truly the happiest for us to celebrate the world of The Arts and what makes New York City the greatest.
Speaking of art, our selection at # 46 on our countdown is a celebration of making art a reality. We take you to an art studio following the life of a famous painter in the process of creating his most signature masterpiece of them all….. Through a fictional and inspirational way. We are talking about spending Sunday in the Park with George. With a legendary score by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, the musical is inspired by the French pointillist painter Georges Seurat’s famous painting entitled A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE.
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE’s journey to the stage originally began in 1981. After a disappointing and scathing critical reception of his previous musical Merrily We Roll Along (which closed after 16 performances), Stephen Sondheim was preparing to give up Musical Theater. However, it took a little reassurance from writer James Lapine. One day, the duo made multiple visits to the Art Institute of Chicago studying one of the most iconic paintings of all…. Georges Seurat’s A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE. The idea was to show him that what makes art happen is the artist themselves. After doing some research on Seurat’s life, Sondheim and Lapine decided to make their musical project fictional. As a fictional piece inspired by Seurat’s life, it would be a celebration of the meditation of art, emotional connection and community.
While still being developed, the show had its world premiere OFF-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in the Summer of 1983 running for only 25 performances. Under the direction of James Lapine, the cast was led by…..
Mandy Patinkin as “Georges Seurat”
Bernadette Peters as “Dot”.
FUN FACT: The original OFF Broadway Ensemble had some notable familiar faces that have gone on to become successful stars on Broadway, Film, and TV consisting of Kelsey Grammar, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Christine Baranski. However, they did not continue when the show would eventually go to Broadway.
For SUNDAY’s OFF Broadway run, the audience was able to experience the changes and updates of what was going on with the show being developed. Initially for its first 22 shows, the show was performed with only its FIRST ACT. The final 3 shows of its run were done with both ACT 1 and ACT 2. One of its earliest audience members was the legendary Leonard Bernstein who raved about the musical. It eventually would take the big jump ON Broadway.
After some tweaking and updates, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE made the move ON Broadway the following year of 1984. It played the Booth Theatre for 35 previews and 605 regular performances. With the same creative team, the cast was led by….
Mandy Patinkin (later Robert Westenberg, Cris Groenendaal, and Harry Groener) as “Georges Seurat”
Bernadette Peters (later Joanna Glushak, Betsy Joslyn, and Maryann Plunkett as “Dot”.
The original production earned mixed reviews but its powerful and haunting score and story plus the cast were all praised.
The original SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE would go on to be nominated for 10 Tony Awards that same year. It would go on to win 2 Technical Awards that evening for BEST SCENIC DESIGN and BEST LIGHTING DESIGN. However, it did earn top honors from other Award shows including the Drama Desk (winning 8 including OUTSTANDING MUSICAL), The New York Drama Critic Circle Award (being the recipient for BEST MUSICAL). In addition, the show went on to win the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (given to Sondheim and Lapine) making history as one of the few musicals ever to get this honor.
With its life after Broadway, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE went on to inspire audiences around the world with its 1991 debut in London’s West End playing the National Theatre for 117 performances, It was led by….
Phillip Quast as “Georges Seurat”
Maria Friedman as “Dot”.
That London debut would also go on to be nominated for 6 Olivier Awards taking home 2 including the big prize for BEST NEW MUSICAL. In addition, the show also took home a BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (for Phillip Quast).
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE would eventually make a full circle return to both London and our New York Theater scene (TWICE).
The show was revived first in London back in 2005 playing the Menier Chocolate Factory for a 5 month run back in 2005 and won 5 Olivier Awards (including OUTSTANDING MUSICAL PRODUCTION). It was a huge smash, the production transferred overseas to our New York backyard and back on Broadway in 2008. Produced here in the Big Apple by Roundabout Theatre Company, it played Studio 54 for a limited engagement for 32 previews and 149 regular performances. Under the direction of Sam Buntrock, this cast both in London and New York were led by….
Daniel Evans as “Georges Seurat”
Jenna Russell as “Dot”.
The 2008 Broadway revival would go to be nominated that same year for 9 Tony Awards including BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL. However, it lost all of its categories. It did however get other Awards here including several Technical Awards from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
The most recent revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE here in the Big Apple happened in 2016. It was performed as a 4 night only concert production at New York City Center as part of its annual GALA staged productions of popular Broadway hits. Thanks to its unforgettable reception, this concert staging transferred to Broadway the following year of 2017. It reopened the newly renovated and updated Hudson Theatre (marking it the first time it was used as a Broadway Theater in 54 YEARS) running for a limited engagement of 11 previews and 61 regular performances. Under the direction of Sarna Lapine, the cast was led by….
With the production being a limited engagement and so many new shows that were coming at the time, this recent Broadway revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE withdrew themselves from competing in that year’s Tony Awards.
This recent revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE was also expecting to make its way overseas to London’s West End for a limited engagement (with both Gyllenhaal and Ashford reprising their performances) at the Savoy Theatre in 2020. However, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expecting to reschedule its run at a time to-be-announced.
Today, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE continues to inspire audiences with its powerful story of art around the world. It’s been performed in schools, community, and regional theaters. Plus, there have been multiple concert stagings as well.
Isn’t this musical truly a love letter to art?!!