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Sunday in the Park With George

Posted by martinteller on October 17, 2012

I don’t think I’ll be making any new friends with this review.  The film — actually an “American Playhouse” television broadcast of Stephen Sondheim’s musical — seems to be almost universally beloved.  Everyone I know who’s seen it loves it.  It has an 8.2 rating on IMDb, with not a single negative user review or external review.  Its Criticker ratings are almost entirely positive.  It even won the Pulitzer, for fuck’s sake.  But my reaction was mixed, and mixed in a very particular way.

At first, I hated it.  I’m probably an unappreciative heathen when it comes to musical theater, but the songs irritated me to no end.  At the risk of sounding like the clueless emperor in Amadeus, “too many notes” was close to what I was feeling.  The music was way too busy and show-offy, with songs shifting gears multiple times, a lot of “deedle-dee-dee” fussiness, overlapping lyrics, spoken asides, too many words being crammed into a phrase to give the singers a chance to strut their stuff.  And the lyrics were too jokey with too much oh-so-clever wordplay… I have the same problem with Gilbert & Sullivan.  When Mandy Patinkin started singing to dogs, I almost turned it off.  I just didn’t enjoy what I was hearing.

And then, about 50-60 minutes into it, came “Finishing a Hat”.  And that I enjoyed (there’s something delightful about the way Patinkin enunciates “hat”, isn’t there?).  And the remaining tunes in the first act — “We Do Not Belong Together”, “Beautiful” and “Sunday” — were all lovely.  I was getting into it.  Maybe I misjudged those earlier tunes, maybe I just needed to warm up to Sondheim’s style.  But then the second act started with the obnoxious “It’s Hot Up Here” and I was back where I started.  The lengthy “Putting it Together” was torturous.  And then it happened again… “Children and Art”, “Lesson #8” and “Move On” all struck the right chord in me.  So while the most common criticism of the production (when there is any criticism to be had) is that the second act isn’t as good, I liked the second part of each act, but mostly disliked the first parts.

As for the production as a whole, I thought it made some good commentary about art, artists and the artistic temperament… but not especially deep.  I didn’t have a particular problem with the second act, and thought it expanded on the themes nicely.  The live theater presentation was a turnoff, though.  I don’t need to hear the audience laughing (especially when it’s a joke I find kinda lame) or the applause breaks, and I don’t like the staginess of it… actors demonstrably facing front and speaking really loudly, or awkwardly looking busy until their next line.  Again, it was generally the quieter, more intimate numbers that appealed to me more.

I rarely pass up a chance to mention that I went to the same high school as Mandy Patinkin, which I’m sure makes me a crashing bore, but I don’t often get an opportunity to namedrop (even in such a removed way).  He is very good in the role — a dual role, as are all the other parts — and of course has a terrific voice.  Bernadette Peters can obviously sing, although I find her a little bit annoying in general.

So as I said, mixed reaction.  I did really like some of the songs, but practically hated a lot of the others.  Some of it is clever and insightful, but not in a way that greatly intrigued me.  I guess I’m in the minority on this one.  I suppose I might get more out of it in a more cinematic presentation, as stage-bound productions usually diminish my enjoyment.  Rating: Fair (64)


3 Responses to “Sunday in the Park With George”

  1. JamDenTel said

    And hey, I went to the same university as Patinkin AND one of my teachers used to date Bernadette Peters.

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