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Arden Theatre Company Presents Sunday in the Park with George

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Sunday in the Park with GeorgeThe Arden Theatre’s love of presenting Stephen Sondheim has manifested itself once again. With a stellar production of “Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins” a few seasons ago, Producing Artistic Director Terry Nolan revisits Sunday in the Park with George for the second time. 

The show's inspiration is Seurat's most famous canvas, ''A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.'' That huge painting shows a crowd of bourgeois 19th-century Parisians relaxing in a park on their day off. 

Stephen Sondheim, music and lyrics and James Lapine book have created an audacious, haunting and, in its own intensely personal way, touching work. Even when it fails - as it does on occasion - ''Sunday in the Park'' sets the stage for sustained theatrical innovations and technology. 

Jeffrey Coon plays the eccentric self-consumed painter George Seurat with solid passion and intensity. He shuts out the world, obsessing over his paintings of garden-variety Parisians strolling on a warm Sunday in the Park. 

The most prominent among them is identified as the painter's mistress named Dot, played by Kristine Fraelich. While Fraelich’s distinctive vocals are power driven, there is little passion or charm in her character. The other characters include such diverse types as boorish American tourists, a surly boatman, a class-conscious German servant, and a pair of maidens both named Celeste. The only hint of a relationship beyond Dot is Seurat’s rival artist, Jules played by another Philly favorite Scott Greer. 

Sunday in the Park with GeorgeMost of the characters are little more that fleeting cameos, but as is often the case in Sondheim musicals, we don't care about the characters - and here, more than ever, it's clear we're not meant to care. In Arden’s production this proves to be a less than engaging experience as the almost ghost-like figures wander aimlessly back and forth in front of the canvas every Sunday with the exception by Maureen Torsney-Weir who plays George’s demanding mother. 

There’s no denying Arden’s special effects of projection and technology are the WOW factor of this production. 

Sunday in the Park with George plays at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St, Old City Philadelphia until July 4, 2010. 

For Tickets and information: 215.922.1122 or www.ardentheatre.org

PHOTOS BY MARK GARVIN