I take my hat off to Little Triangle for selecting to stage one of the great masterworks of Musical Theatre as their first production. Yes there’s an in-joke in there for those in the know, but it’s that kind of show. Everyone has an opinion about it and it’s an epic challenge for any actor to walk in the shoes of Mandy and Bernadette and most recently Jake Gyllenhaal on Broadway.
It’s a simple pared back production of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George at the Depot theatre in Marrickville. You won’t get huge sets or paintings coming to life before your eyes. What you will get is a lot of love and a troupe of actors, creative team and musicians who obviously care enormously about bringing this very special work to life.
In its original high budget format initial criticism of this Sondheim work centered around it being a perfect first act and a flawed second. I disagree completely.
I think the second act is the entire reason for creating the first. It is here we get into the crux of the piece. The struggle for originality, for relevance, the excruciating tyranny of requiring money to free you to create. The despair of losing your way and the joy of finding it again. All these issues cut close to the bone for any type of artist and Sondheim and Lapine distill all that obsession pain and love into 5 words that sparkle with a beauty finer than any gem
Order – Design – Composition – Balance – Harmony. The creative process.
When you remove the fancy staging, this process boils to the centre like a crucible leaving the character journeys raw and exposed. It is risky territory for any director and Alexander Andrews has let his performers rather than the sets carry the message of the work. And it is a really fine ensemble cast who do a great deal of justice to the piece, perfectly traversing the fine line between humour and pathos that pervades the work. And its always fascinating in a multiple role show to see which roles engage the actor more as they journey through a series of cameo moments. Some were much stronger in their second act persona than their first.
It’s a young production – young company, young production team, and young ensemble and this is both its strength and perhaps its only flaw. The passion and commitment were clear, but this is a really mature work and some moments don’t quite reach the emotional potential inherent in its finely crafted journey. Sondheim is hard to cast, requiring perfect pitch in both head and heart and this production was at its best with the majority of its performers who had both.
There are some fine voices, but also some that are a little too light for the emotional heights required of them, but Musical Director Conrad Hamill has done a superb job of bringing this epic score to life with only one amazing pianist Alexander Mau and his own considerable Cello skills. Yes that’s all – an upright piano and a cello. And it sounds superb. An extraordinary achievement. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this is that the performers didn’t need microphones in the small space, and it was a delight to hear the voices free of amplification. It’s a vocally strong ensemble and the big set pieces sounded lush.
One note to the Depot theatre itself. Be sympathetic to the production in progress. Interval music blasting out Abba and Disco divas at high volume rather shatters the mood trying to be created here. Perhaps investigate something less strident.
Sondheim is far too rarely staged and ‘Sunday’ is a piece that few dare undertake. This is a brave choice and a wonderful debut production for this new company. It is melodic, funny, and moving – and well worth a look. To quote Mr Sondheim “…so many possibilities…”
Little Triangle presents
Sunday in the Park with George
music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine
Director Alexander Andrews
Venue: Depot Theatre | 142 Addison Rd Marrickville NSW
Dates: 6 – 16 September 2017
Part of the 2017 Sydney Fringe Festival