Sunday in the Park with George at Melbourne Theatre Company
Inspired by Seurat's Impressionist painting, 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte', Sunday in the Park with George is a masterpiece in its own right. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine bring the past into the present tense, with poignant and painful truths about life, love, the creation of art and the struggle to be seen. One of the most acclaimed musicals of our time, this moving study won a Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for an astounding ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Rosie spoke with performer Vidya Makan about why this work continues to be so popular across the globe, and why it's so important to support the Australian musical theatre scene. Read the full interview below:
We’ve recently seen you take to the stage with Australian Shakespeare Company and Arena Theatre Company, as well as taking part in a national tour of Green Day’s punk rock musical, American Idiot. What drew you to Sunday in the Park with George as your next big project?
Where do I start? Sunday In The Park With George is a dream show for any musical theatre actor. And to get to play Dot/Marie…well… It is a dream come true in many ways. The work is so nuanced, and there is a beauty in this piece which is so, so special. I’ve listened to the music from it for years. So really, when Watch This contacted me about auditioning, it was a no-brainer.
Sunday in the Park with George tells the story of painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. How does this musical examine our relationship with art, and what can we take away from Georges’ actions?
Something that I realised only once we’d begun rehearsals, was that this piece is about so much more than just “the art of making art”. It actually de-constructs and explores the concept much more profoundly. I think this piece is really about legacy. That art is our legacy; it immortalises us. And then Lapine and Sondheim extend this idea to leaving behind “children and art” to continue your mark on earth. To me, this sits at the heart of Sunday In The Park With George. In terms of what we can take away from George’s actions, well - I suppose that would change from person to person. To me, I suppose it is the idea that we need to ‘connect’. Really, that is the art of being human.
Sunday in the Park with George debuted on Broadway in 1984, and continues to be features on stage worldwide today. Why do you think this musical has stood the test of time, and how do you think a 2019 audience will respond to this work?
Sunday In The Park With George will always be timeless, because it explores the very notion of being ‘human’. However, I think our production is particularly special, because it responds very strongly to the fact that we are presenting this work now, in 2019. Our amazing co-directors, Sonya Suares and Dean Drieberg, have made some VERY cool choices to explore a story that moves from 1884 (Act 1) to 1984 (Act 2) in a way that has NEVER been done before. The casting of the show is very exciting, and in many ways reflects the world of 2019 within the framework of the story that is set 35-135 years ago. There is also an exciting AV component to our production, tying in the technology of the art of today with the presentation of Seurat’s famous painting: ‘Sunday on the Island of La Grand Jatte’. I think Melbourne audiences will be very excited to see our production, and those who know the show will be able to take away something different to what they have understood from the piece before.
Sunday in the Park with George has been described as a ‘masterpiece in its own right.’ What about this musical makes it stand above the rest?
What doesn’t?! Whenever I describe the process of learning this work, I talk a lot about learning all the melodies and rhythms right. If you can do that, and be open as an actor, Sondheim does half the work for you. It truly is genius. Every time we run the show, we make new, profound discoveries. I suppose what makes Sunday In The Park With George a masterpiece in its own right is that it is so beautifully and deeply layered. And then on top of this, it is profoundly FUNNY. I am constantly having to dry my tears from laughing so much at my co-actors because they are that wonderful in their roles. It is such a fun piece of theatre. I think this delicate balance between being profoundly moving and hilarious is what makes this show so unique.
You’re currently in the process of developing your own musical, Woman. How important do you think it is that we continue to grow the Australian musical theatre scene, and what do you think Australian musical theatre performers can offer globally?
Oh my. It. Is. SO. IMPORTANT. There are so many stories and voices we have to explore and play with in this country. And so much fun to be had in doing so. The more we grow and diversify the storytelling within Australian musical theatre; the more cohesive we can be as a national identity.
Australian musical theatre performers are truly world class. I have found that due to the nature of our industry, with only a few big shows happening every year, the performers that really “make it”, are the ones who go out there and make things happen for themselves between the big gigs. The act of “creating”, I believe, grows performers in a way that nothing else really does. I think this is what is really exciting about Aussie artists. We get it done! And because of that, we always have something to say!
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
That’s too hard. But this year it’s a tie between Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! on broadway and Barbara And The Camp Dogs with Belvoir/Malthouse.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
London, to see Sunday In The Park With George with Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal at Savoy Theatre.
Dream show to perform in?
I would be lying if I didn’t say Hamilton!
Plays or musicals?
Por que no los dos!
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
What’s next for you after this show?
I go straight into finishing my original song cycle, My Home Too, which is receiving a funded development in September with Front and Centre!
Sunday in the Park with George opens at Melbourne Theatre Company on August 21st. You can get your tickets here.