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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2004 08:11 pm

Backstage pass 9-23-04

Mary Jo Curry is Dot in Sunday in the Park with George

The Springfield Theatre Centre's current production Sunday in the Park with George is a show not to be missed -- in fact, I recommend that you see it more than once. I have never witnessed such a prolonged audience ovation at the end of a first act as I saw last week. When the auditorium lights came up for intermission, the applause just kept going.

This beautiful production, meticulously directed by Leigh Steiner and designed by Dave Shaw, is inspired in every way. It features Dallas Street of Champaign and Mary Jo Curry in the lead roles, along with an ensemble of performers that includes Ann Collins, Gus Gordon, Eric Huber, Mary Von Liski, Dennis Rendleman, Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, Shirley Thomas, and Linda Schneider, all giving consummate, professional performances.

The vocal director is Sue Hamilton, and Doug Hahn conducts the orchestra. Jeff Nevins' lighting design subtly paints the stage with different intensities of color all through the performance.

The original Sunday in the Park with George opened on Broadway 20 years ago. Though La Cage aux Folles won the Tony for best musical, Sunday picked up a Pulitzer Prize that year. I was living in New York at the time and have strong memories of this show. Anyone interested in the arts made their way to the Booth Theater to see this new Stephen Sondheim musical about the 19th-century artist Georges Seurat and the creation of his masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -- 1884.

When a new musical is being readied for Broadway, the show goes through several weeks of preview performances, a period during which changes are made before the show's official opening night with critics in attendance. We were fascinated to see how the show's creators made changes, cuts, and additions to the musical during this tryout period. One of the major changes to the show was the addition of the song "Children and Art," which was put in just before the show's opening. Many think that song was needed, and I can't imagine the show now without it. Seeing it sung and acted here by Curry will remain in my memory a long time.

I asked director Steiner to share some of her thoughts about this production. "Of course the issue of the creative process relates to us all," Steiner says. "The artists in the audience will identify with Seurat's conflicts and what he really gave up [a normal life] to produce his art -- the driving force in his life. But those in the audience who do not think of themselves as artists -- well, they are in fact artists also, or at least they can be. They are the artists of their own life."

Sunday in the Park with George concludes its run with three shows this weekend, playing at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24 and 25, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St. Call 523-2787.

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