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Sunday in the Park


On Friday night, we saw Sunday in the Park with George at the 5th Avenue Theater in downtown Seattle. I guess you could say it’s our musical. We don’t have a song. But we have a musical. We saw it on Broadway near the end of our extended honeymoon, in the summer of 1985.

(We were married on June 23. In early July, we headed to New York, then on to Paris to see my sister, who was unable to come to Seattle for the wedding because my nephew Mark had just been born in early March. Then up to Antwerp for a couple of days, over the Channel to London for a night before heading up to Glasgow. An extended stay with our friends the Browns in Glasgow, with excursions to see the Lenagans in Edinburgh and to make an overnight trip to Skye. Back to London for a few days. Back to New York. Then off to Nantucket for a few days. New York again. And home. Somewhere in there, probably the New York stay before Nantucket, we saw the musical.)

Sunday in the Park opened in 1984. By August 1985, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters were gone. I don’t remember who played the lead roles. But based on the information we found here, George was probably played by Robert Westenberg (or Harry Groener) and Dot/Marie by Betsy Joslyn (or Maryann Plunkett). Regardless, we found the show breathtaking. And I have since become enormously attached to the music, which I have listened to many many times over the years, both from the original cast recording and in recordings of various of the songs by a range of artists. I am particularly fond of the orchestration. Stephen Sondheim of course composed the music, but the orchestration is due to Michael Starobin, who went to my high school. His older brother David, a famous classical guitarist, was in my high school class. Michael was some years younger. I didn’t know him. But his orchestration of Sunday in the Park is etched into my aural memory.

When we learned that a production of Sunday would be part of the 5th Avenue’s season, we knew we had to go. But we nearly forgot. Fortunately, Gail remembered a few nights ago and we immediately ordered 4 tickets online for the whole family as an early celebration of Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, we ordered just a few nights before the night, so our seats were far back.

I had never gone to the 5th Avenue Theater before. It opened in 1926 for movies and vaudeville. Some of its history is discussed here. An excerpt:

The interior design of the 5th Avenue Theatre was modeled to reproduce some of the features of the most historic and well-known Beijing landmarks. The Norwegian artist Gustav Liljestrom executed the design based on his visit to China and the illustrated account of Ernst Boerschmann’s travels there, Chinesische Architecktur, published in 1925. …

The interior architecture of the theatre is an “excellent imitation of Chinese wooden temple construction”.[2] The two story rectangular lobby features red, stenciled columns wrapped in plaster rising to a timbered roof structure of decoratively painted beams supporting a canopy of bamboo, also imitated in plaster. The original pair of guardian lions, both male, guard the stairway to a second level gallery that serves the theatre balcony. In addition to the Imperial guard lions, other original furnishings, light fixtures, and decoration remain intact.
The decorative details continue in the 2,130-seat auditorium, but the highlight and focal decorative feature is the octagonal caisson from which a sculpted five-toed Imperial Chinese dragon springs. A large chandelier of glass hangs from the dragon’s mouth, in reference to the Chinese symbol of a dragon disgorging flaming pearls. One claim puts the size of this caisson at twice the size of the model on which it was based in the throne room of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City.

The theater now serves as the principal home of traveling musicals, as well as hosting some new productions, such as the 2002 production of Hairspray, which had its initial run here before moving to Broadway, becoming a smash hit, and winning lots of Tony Awards. The production of Sunday in the Park that just ended its run today is the same one first done in London in 2005 under the direction of the young British director Sam Buntrock. It moved to Broadway last year. Its run here at the 5th Avenue Theater is only the third mounting of this particular production, with Buntrock again directing but with a new (and largely local) cast. We are fortunate that the theater decided to host this production.

How was it? Well, simply put, I loved it. I could imagine better performances in some of the roles, but the show is so great that I didn’t really care. My memory for 24 years now was that when we saw it in 1985, I thought the first act was near perfect, but found the second act silly. This time around, the second-act letdown never happened. Partly it’s because I love the second-act music so much that I didn’t care so much about the weaknesses of the story. But also, to my surprise, I didn’t really find the storyline of Act 2 so weak anymore. I was completely entranced. Or I would have been if only we could have sat 20 rows closer. I can’t think of any Broadway theater where it’s possible to be as far back as we were. That’s just now how all the classic Broadway theaters are built. But this was a movie theater, after all, and we were way back there. We weren’t as swept up in the staging as one can, and should, be. This was the one disappointment, especially in the magical moments that bring Act 1 to a close. Still, I’m not complaining. If the run didn’t end today, I would happily go back next week. I can’t wait to see it again.

Categories: Theater
  1. gailirving
    May 11, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    I think you forgot a word in the fourth paragraph.

    Unfortunately, we ordered just a few nights before the production….(should this say…ended?)

    I can’t wait to see it again either. But I will have to remember to have my kleen-x out before the show begins!
    Thanks for the Mother’s Day gift. It was great.

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