19th century park scene
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A case for Sondheim

Review: WAAPA Third Year Music Theatre, Sunday in the Park with George ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 28 August ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

In the world of show-goers there are Sondheim people: a unique congregation of theatre lovers who worship at the alter of Stephen Sondheim. Then there are others, myself included, who appreciate good performance and can’t deny the mastery of the composer and lyricist’s work. Award-winning singer, actor and director Tyran Parke is – self-confessed – one of the former.

A graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Parke has returned to his alma mater 20 years on to direct its third year Music Theatre students in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George. The subject of the text is post-impressionist French painter Georges Seurat, and Parke is no stranger to the script, having played the lead of George in the 2007 Australian premiere of the work. He’s well placed to understand the power of Sondheim and the cyclical nature of his involvement seems a case of life imitating art.

artist painting
The artist returns to his studio to paint in frenzied preoccupation: Jarrod Draper as George. Photo: Jon Green.

Sunday in the Park with George is a fictionalised account of the work and life of Seurat, known in the musical as George, and the time he spent creating his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886). George (Jarrod Draper) sits in the park on Sunday afternoons, creating studies of a cross-section of the contemporary French public milling about with their own affairs and concerns. The artist returns to his studio to paint in frenzied preoccupation. In Act II, a century has passed and George’s great-grandson, also George and also an artist, is at a crossroads searching for new meaning and new direction in his work. The story is about the passing of time, the cost of obsession and possibilities of the future.

Fittingly for a show about visual art, Maeli Cherel’s set is delightfully pictorial. Using digital media, the locations are depicted in watercolour beauty, as is Seurat’s seminal painting. Georgia Manning’s clever costuming represents both the 1880s and 1980s with aesthetic cohesion.

Georgia Manning’s clever costuming represents both the 1880s and 1980s with aesthetic cohesion. Photo: Jon Green.

While Sunday in the Park with George is not a musical punctuated by dance numbers, movement is vitally important in this visually driven piece. The stage is regularly filled with supporting and bit roles, and each tableau is a visual treat. Special mention to Emma Bradley, a vocal force, and to Maverick Newman and Stacey Thomsett, for their comic representation of an American couple on holiday, which garnered hearty laughs from the audience. Last but certainly not least, Jarrod Draper handled the demanding role of George with skill and assurance.

With this winning combination, Parke makes a case for us all to become Sondheim people.

Sunday in the Park with George plays until September 1.

Pictured top: Sezgin Aygun and Elise Muley (front left), and Jarrod Draper, with the cast of “Sunday in the Park with George”. Photo: Jon Green