A superb revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 masterpiece “Sunday in the Park with George,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, has brought back to life the 113-year-old Hudson Theatre in Times Square.
The Hudson, used in recent decades for conferences, dinners and special events, is now refurbished as a Broadway theater.
“Sunday” is a complex, rich and extremely rewarding work of art inspired by a work of art. Act one, set in 1884 France, depicts the pointillist visual artist Georges Seraut (Gyllenhaal) obsessively preparing be his iconic painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” oblivious to the people around him including his mistress Dot (Ashford).
Act two is set a hundred years later with Seraut’s 98-year-old daughter Marie (Ashford) and great-grandson George (Gyllenhaal), a technologically-savvy artist who has lost his way but benefits from an otherworldly visit from Dot.
This revival (directed by Sarna Lapine, niece of James Lapine) originated as a concert staging at City Center. With the exception of an elaborate light sculpture sequence, it is a simple presentation that lacks the visual thrills of the original production or the 2008 Broadway revival.
However, storytelling is focused and the score (played by a full orchestra) sounds as glorious as ever. Compared with other actors who have played the role, Gyllenhaal’s Georges is sensitive, wounded and even sympathetic.
This Georges is no less obsessive over his work, but he appears to regret the pain he inflicts onto others and is less harsh towards Dot.
His George of Act Two is overwhelmed and possibly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As Dot, Ashford gives a bold performance in which she employs her comic abilities to superb effect but is also sexy, vulnerable and heartbreaking.