Sunday in the Park with George

Unfortunately, the glorious concert version of Sunday in the Park with George played only four performances. But what a treat for those of us who got to see it. With the limited run now concluded, herein you'll find just a few notes about the production.

Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford is magical. I am convinced there's nothing she can't do. Her Dot was funny and sensitive and heartfelt and layered, and her Marie was equally funny and touching. I feel lucky that I've had the chance watch her career blossom (from a Heathers reading and a member of the replacement Tribe to Kinky Boots and her Tony-winning turn in You Can't Take It With You), and look forward to watching her perform for years to come.

Jake Gyllenhaal was so good presenting a portrait of an artist as a young man. His two Georges seemed different on the surface, but Gyllenhaal showed how similar they are. He loses himself in characters, delving deep into their psyche, and, here, he painted George with the most beautiful colors and light. He was terrific in Little Shop of Horrors, teasing us with his musical theatre chops, and he soared here. I wish he would do a full run of a musical. We need more true leading men like him. He has a full, powerful voice, and you match that with his always committed, sensitive acting and he can't be beat. Jake, please make the musical theatre stage your home.

I wish the direction, by Sarna Lapine (niece of the librettist and original director, James), were different for "Finishing the Hat." It's an incredible song—important and integral to the character and the point of the musical—and Gyllenhaal's performance was riveting, but it lacked some of the power it could have had were he placed in a stronger position. He was seated downstage center. If he'd been standing instead of sitting, the moment would have made a bigger impact. Likewise, if the sight lines were better from the balcony (lift the top of the proscenium, City Center!) I could actually see the painting, rather than relying on my memory of it. That, too, would have make "Sunday" (in both acts) even more effecting than it was.

This Stephen Sondheim–James Lapine show is one of the nine musicals to win the Pulitzer, and it's rightly revered among musical theatre fans. It seems to be Sondheim's most personal show, being all about the artist. Is it drive or obsession that motivates artists? Is it a mental condition or genius that makes an artist strive for perfection? George claims he's not hiding behind his canvas, he's living in it. But what real life could he be missing when he's unable to look up from a blade of grass? (Enter Sondheim's trademark ambivalence.) George must find that order, balance, harmony. The art of making art is moving on, continuing to create, continuing to look at the white, the blank page, the canvas. The art is discovering so many possibilities.

PS—The featured players and ensemble were an embarrassment of riches. From recent Tony nominees Zachary Levi (She Loves Me) and Carmen Cusack (Bright Star), to Tony winners Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I), Gabriel Ebert (Matilda, Preludes), and Phylicia Rashad (Head of Passes), this all-star cast knocked it out of the park.