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June 15, 1986|Lee Margulies

"SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE," Monday, 8-10:30 p.m. (50); 9-11:30 p.m. (28)--Stephen Sondheim's 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical (illustrated on the cover) finally will reach a Southern California stage this fall so that the public here can see it as it was designed. In the meantime, thank goodness for television.

It's not the same as seeing it live, but it sure beats not seeing it at all. Or waiting 2 1/2 years to see a road company version or a local production such as the one that the Long Beach Civic Light Opera is planning to unveil Oct. 18.

Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin reprised their starring roles in the original Broadway play for this specially staged TV production, which was seen on the Showtime cable channel earlier this year and now closes out the fifth season of PBS' "American Playhouse."

With music and lyrics by the incomparable Sondheim ("A Little Night Music," "Follies," "Company") and a book by James Lapine, "Sunday in the Park With George" was inspired by the 1886 painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," by Frenchman Georges Seurat.

In the first act, Patinkin portrays the bearded Seurat and Peters is his model and mistress, Dot, and the action revolves around his efforts to put the park on canvas--with humans mingling naturally with cutout figures from the finished painting. The second act is set in 1984, with Patinkin playing Peters' clean-shaven grandson, also a painter named George.

The play's themes range from the specifics of Seurat's relationships and painting technique to the broader questions of how a work of art takes on a life of its own and what relationship artists ought to have with the people around them.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize for drama, "Sunday in the Park With George" won two Tony Awards, a Grammy for best original-cast recording and numerous other dramatic prizes.

Directed for television by Terry Hughes, who earlier brought Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" to the small screen, the play was taped at the Booth Theatre on Broadway in October, 1985.

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