One great place to see shows not often performed in the West End is the Fringe; another is London’s generous sprinkling of drama schools. Central School of Speech and Drama has become one of the most famous dramatic institutions in the capital since being founded in 1906, and last night I attended the MA Music Theatre course’s final production, Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.
The cast were slick and assured in their delivery of this complex and intense musical. The show full of Sondheim’s signature rhythms, rhymes and scattered stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Rick Woska as intense artist George and Kate Adler as his lover Dot kept a fantastic pace and stayed on top of the relentless material. Both possessed with a strong stage presence and vocal talent, these two propelled the show along.
As someone who finds Sondheim unreasonably lofty and intellectual for a musical theatre composer, Sunday did not change my mind so much as give me a small insight into the man and his methods. ‘Art isn’t easy…’ sings the cast in the modern-day second act, and this certainly isn’t one of Sondheim’s most accessible shows. The character of George, absorbed in his work, a perfectionist, closed to the demands of everyone but his art, and the reaction of his contemporaries, seemed reflected by the show itself – Sunday may not hit you with waves of emotion or wit, but you can see a lot of thought has gone into the process. Still, the CSSD actors made it a visual treat using paint-spattered curtains, cleverly employed frames for both sketching and photography, projection and effective choreography. Not to mention the spot-on costumes for the stunning close of Act 1, where Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – the inspiration for this entire show – is recreated amid the powerful harmonies of standout number Sunday.
Each soloist had a strong and vivid voice, and the scenes were absorbing and well acted. The one sadness was that the material did not allow for much humour or passion – personally, my spine remained un-tingled and my diaphragm unstretched by laughter. But I can’t blame the cast for this; Stephen Sondheim and I largely go together like chocolate and pickled herring (he’s the herring), and I think this may be one of his driest pieces.
One of the more touching moments was George’s duet with his mother (Vassula Delli), Beautiful. Bada Ruban and Kimberley Shore also provided lightness as Mr and Mrs America, struggling to get off the island and appreciate Paris’s charms. Overall, Sunday did exactly what it was supposed to do in this instance: showcase the professionalism and confidence of its cast. It may not be a spectacularly entertaining or moving show, but it’s certainly a thinker, and this came across neatly in this CSSD production.