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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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SJU Theatre Company’s fall musical paints image of art and love

The cast of “Sunday in the Park with George” recreates the real Georges Seurat painting that inspired the show. PHOTO COURTESY OF MELISSA KELLY

Art isn’t easy.

But the SJU Theatre Company makes it look like a breeze in their fall musical, a powerful production of “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Sunday in the Park with George,” with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine, is about what it’s like to be an artist — the passion, the struggle, the consequences — no matter what time period you’re in or what medium you’re using.

Act 1 of the musical takes place in the mid 1880s just outside Paris and follows George Seurat, played by Giacomo Badalamenti ’24, over the course of a few Sundays in his life as he paints the visitors in a local park. George is extremely dedicated to his work, using breakthrough techniques in his paintings, but it is difficult to balance his art and his personal relationships.

Act 2 jumps 100 years into the future, now following George’s great-grandson, also named George. This younger George parallels his great-grandfather in many ways, struggling with his own creativity and connections with himself and those around him.

The musical is inspired by the real 1800s painter Georges Seurat, whose painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is the very painting the character George is working on in Act 1. The painting is currently at the Art Institute of Chicago.

According to Renee Dobson, M.F.A., associate professor of theater and artistic director of Bluett Theatre, this musical was chosen not only because of its message, but also as a way to honor the memory of Sondheim, who died in November 2021. 

“He is considered pretty much the greatest composer-lyricist of musical theater of the 20th century and beyond,” Dobson said. “So we wanted to do something as a tribute to him.”

Out of the many shows written by Sondheim, this one specifically was chosen because “in some ways, it’s his seminal work” and because of how it “speaks to the challenges of the artist,” according to Dobson. It is also the only Sondheim work to win a Pulitzer Prize, and one of only 10 musicals ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Ava Smith ’25, who plays the roles of Dot in Act 1 and Marie in Act 2, said performing this show is one of the best ways for the SJU Theatre Company to honor Sondheim.

“This is absolutely [Sondheim’s] best work,” Smith said. “I think what he really wanted was for his shows to be performed, so it’s a really meaningful tribute to perform his best show and remember his legacy.”

For Smith as well as Juliet Gentilucci ’24, who plays Yvonne and Naomi, and Jaspar Albright ’23, who plays Jules and Bob Greenberg, the most difficult part of the show is the music, lyrics and rhythm. This is clear even just from watching the show, from the rapidly-sung, complicated sentences in the title song at the start of the show to difficult individual voice parts crossing over each other in “Move On” near the end of Act 2.

The actors said the best part was the close relationship that formed between the cast.

“We all grew really close and bonded through doing this work because we all know how important it is and how important the messages are,” said Gentilucci. “So just bonding over that was just a special part. And it was easy to do it with them because of how great they all are.”

The entire cast comes together onstage in the finale of Act 1 to recreate the real Georges Seurat’s famous painting before a giant replica of the painting slides down from the ceiling, remaining there for the duration of intermission. According to Dobson, the costumes in the SJU Theatre Company’s production were carefully crafted to closely match the outfits in the painting, with some pieces even being handmade by costume designer Tina Heinze.

For Albright, “Sunday in the Park with George” is relevant today especially to artists like himself who can see their own struggles and lives reflected in the show.

“I think it’s very important because of how it captures the beauty of the natural world and in terms of human beings’ relationship with art,” Albright said. “And not just visual art, [also] with music, with poetry. It’s very significant in how it presents the importance of art itself and the importance and devotion of people who create art.”

“Sunday in the Park with George” runs Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased 24 hours in advance via email and Venmo or the day of by cash or check only.

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Ally Engelbert
Ally Engelbert, Managing Editor
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