A musical painted across time: Sunday in the Park with George

A Sondheim classic hits the Mabie Theatre this weekend.

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A musical painted across time: Sunday in the Park with George

Mary Jane Claassen and John Muriello perform in The University of Iowa Theater Department's production of

Mary Jane Claassen and John Muriello perform in The University of Iowa Theater Department's production of "Sunday in the Park With George" on Monday, March 4th, 2019. (Tate Hildyard/ The Daily Iowan).

Mary Jane Claassen and John Muriello perform in The University of Iowa Theater Department's production of "Sunday in the Park With George" on Monday, March 4th, 2019. (Tate Hildyard/ The Daily Iowan).

Mary Jane Claassen and John Muriello perform in The University of Iowa Theater Department's production of "Sunday in the Park With George" on Monday, March 4th, 2019. (Tate Hildyard/ The Daily Iowan).

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Reporter

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It took two years for Georges Seurat to finish his masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a painting that was only recognized as legendary after his death. C’est la vie of an artist.

It also took 10 years for UI faculty members Alan MacVey and John Muriello to decide on a perfect time to put on the musical Sunday in the Park with George, which is inspired by Seurat and his famous painting.

“I’d wanted to do this musical for a long time,” director Alan MacVey said. “But John and I kept waiting to cast two undergraduate students. Eventually, we just said, “We’re doing it this year.’ ”

Written by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George will open at 8 p.m. Friday in the UI Theater Building’s Mabie Theater.

The two acts of the show take place 100 years apart. The first follows George in 1884, a focused and passionate artist who is attempting to finish his masterpiece.

“He’s a bit of a scientist,” said Muriello, who plays the part of George. “Even if the times are different, he goes through an emotional experience that is completely relatable.”

The second trails his fictional great-grandson, George in 1984, who is a struggling contemporary artist.

“It’s asking the question as to how do you navigate a complex, financial world? How do you keep being creative?” MacVey said. “While the focus is on art, it’s not just about art. It’s about dedication to something, whether you’re an artist, student, or having put your life on hold while working for a cause.”

Sunday in the Park is written so that several characters from the show emerge from George’s painting and onto the stage.

“The age range in the play is so diverse and dynamic,” said Emma Gostonczik, who plays Frieda/Curator.

While Sunday in the Park is a musical, much of the songs come in bits and pieces instead of definite songs audiences see in musicals such as Oklahoma. The score itself, as MacVey puts it, is a real work of art. But it requires patience to place the pieces of music correctly, so they can eventually lead to a song.

“[Composer Stephen Sondheim] is musically doing what George did,” MacVey said. “George painted little dots, and the music shows that through short notes. These sketches of songs are made while George is sketching.”

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Even the stage is made to look like a piece of art, with three frames surrounding the stage and the floor dotted with light and dark shades of green. Both MacVey and Muriello said the audience will first see curtains that give the impression of a blank, white canvas.

“There’s little animations of boats in the background while George is sketching at the park,” Gostonczik said. “You get to see what George is sketching during the show.”

The process of making a Sondheim production requires many hours of rehearsal. But Muriello considers it an honor to be a part of it. The themes hold true fir the director, who is stepping down as the chair of the Theater Department this year.

“A part of this is about how you move on,” MacVey said. “How do you leave something that has been a large part of your identity?”