OGDEN — It’s a famous musical about an even more famous painting.
This week, the Weber State University Department of Performing Arts presents “Sunday in the Park with George,” the Stephen Sondheim musical built around one of the world’s most iconic paintings.
“It is one of the great pieces of the musical theater canon, but it’s actually very rarely done,” said director Andrew Barratt Lewis, an assistant professor musical theater at Weber State University. “It has some unique challenges as far as the scenery and design and music.”
The last time the musical was presented at Weber State was 1998, according to Lewis. And actually, he said, it’s been awhile since a musical has graced the largest stage at WSU.
“It’s been pretty fun to do this musical, “Lewis said. “We haven’t had a musical on the Austad Stage in quite some time — it’s been many, many years.”
“Sunday in the Park with George” was written by Sondheim, who gave the world “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd.” The play centers around Georges Seurat’s pointillism masterpiece, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” which depicts Parisians relaxing in a park on the banks of the River Seine. Act I is set in the latter part of the 19th Century, where Seurat struggles to create deeply meaningful art while still maintaining a relationship with his lover, Dot. But as his art thrives, his love diminishes. Act II takes place a century later, where one of Seurat’s descendants looks to the past to find his way as an artist.
The acclaimed musical, which opened on Broadway in 1984, won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
“I would say that if you have ever imagined, ever wondered how a piece of art comes to life, this would be a wonderful musical to see,” Lewis said. “The whole idea it’s trying to answer is ‘Who are these people and why did Seurat paint them?’”
Lewis said many people have seen the painting, which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. It was also featured in the 1986 comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He encourages Utahns to give the musical a chance.
“I hope people will be intrigued and dive into it,” Lewis said. “Ultimately, it plays with something that I think is universal: How do you balance the connections you make in life with the things you are most passionate about? Which is much broader than just art or theater or music.”
Lewis said this production of “Sunday in the Park with George” is unique in that the entire Department of Performing Arts is staging it.
“It’s not just the theater people, we’re working heavily with music and dance in kind of a collaborative production, which is exciting,” he said. “We have 21 in the cast, and another 20 or so in the orchestra — plus all the other people working on the show.”
The show also has a strong digital component to it, with a “ton of projection design.”
Lewis, who is in his first year at Weber State, said “Sunday in the Park with George” was selected before he was hired. He’s glad to have a chance to direct it.
“Lucky for me, it’s one of my favorite musicals,” Lewis said. “It examines art and life — how to make art and have a fulfilling life. Like I said, it definitely has a special place for musical-theater nerds.”