“Sunday in the Park” is no walk in the park
American Theatre Company prepares for the Oklahoma premiere of the very technically challenging “Sunday in the Park with George,” Feb. 15-24
Samuel Briggs and Karlena Riggs are the leads in ATC's “Sunday in the Park with George.”
As Executive Director Tulsa’s American Theatre Company, directing Oklahoma theatrical premieres, and the challenges, are starting to become old hat for Meghan Hurley. After tackling Tulsa’s ATC's award-winning January 2015 premiere of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ scorching drama, Hurley is now in final rehearsals for ATC’s next theatrical challenge: pulling off the Oklahoma community theatre premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s musical, “Sunday in the Park with George,” Feb. 15-24 in the newly renovated Liddy Doenges Theatre of Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
“Sunday …,” a play-within-a-play, is based on a fictional account of late 1800s French artist Georges Seurat and the possible story of his painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” as well as the artist’s great-grandson 100 years later, while connecting the two generations. “This musical is all about connection,” says Hurley. “The story revolves around George, who immerses himself into his masterpiece, while struggling to connect with others, including his lover, Dot,” says Hurley. “Act Two brings us 100 years later to George’s great-grandson, a struggling and frustrated contemporary artist, trying to connect with his own art.”
And therein lies the rub. Each of the 17 cast members in “Sunday in the Park with George” has two separate, but similar, roles — one for each act. The original production, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, opened May 7, 1984 on Broadway, and garnered a Pulitzer Prize, while being nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It later went on to success in London’s West End, where it received two Olivier Awards. It has never been done in Oklahoma, and, while it was revived on the Great White Way as late as 2005, the Broadway touring production has never graced a Tulsa stage.
“There are many challenges with producing this show,” says Hurley. “Because the two acts are set 100 years apart, it’s like producing two shows at the same time. Everyone is playing a new character in Act Two. So we have a wide range of costume needs, from bustles to shoulder pads. Then there’s the gigantic projections that will take place all through the show,” she goes on. “The music in this show is particularly difficult for Sondheim. There’s a 17-section song in Act Two (“Putting it Together”) that’s rife with challenges. I think all of these of these reasons are why this show has been tackled in Oklahoma until now.”
Hurley said although ATC “initially made the decision to produce it in late 2017,” with “a couple of our creative team members from the beginning, it wasn’t until Fall 2018 that we had everyone lined up.” The show was cast this past August, with Samuel Briggs and Karlena Riggs in the leading roles. Hurley said the first item after casting was devoted to costume design. “Rehearsals began on Jan. 2,” says Hurley. “We started with music and then jumped right into an ambitious blocking (stage movement) schedule. Luckily I have a fantastic cast of fast learners and we were able to get books out of hands and start peeling back the layers of these rich characters early.”
Hurley says while she has never seen the show live in its entirety, “I have seen some clips of the original Broadway version that was filmed with Patinkin and Peters.” She says she was drawn to the show because of its large use of visual art, an art form she is passionate about. “As an actress and singer, I have always loved Sondheim’s work, including many of the songs in this show.” She says what she loves most about the composer “is that he doesn’t shy away from the emotional life of the character. He entertains, yes. But he also asks more of his characters as well as the audience.” The ATC production includes a live orchestra conducted by Christy Stalcup.
Due to its day after Valentine’s Day opening, “‘Sunday in the Park with George’ makes for a beautiful night of theatre,” says Hurley. “The show has incredible singing, acting and live music, it’s a visual and auditory feast. There should be no shortage of laughter or tears from audience members,” reiterating its connection theme. “A perfect setting to make one of your own!”
Curtain times are 8 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The show runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets are $25 for adults; and $22.50 for students, seniors, city employees and educators with a valid ID. For more information visit tulsapac.com, americantheatrecompany.org, or call 918-596-7111 or 918-747-9494.
Editor's note: In September 2015, Meghan Hurley became Artistic Director at Theatre Pops. After the company merged with American Theatre Company in June 2018, Hurley became Executive Director of the newly merged company.