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'Sunday in the Park' Goes in Search of Consistency


With her creamy skin and kewpie-doll mouth, Andrea Chamberlain looks so much like Bernadette Peters I felt I was in a time warp during much of "Sunday in the Park With George," which opened at the Festival of Arts Forum Theatre in Laguna Beach on Saturday.

Peters originated the role of Dot, painter Georges Seurat's mistress and model, in the strikingly beautiful 1984 musical about love and art by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Chamberlain not only resembles Peters but she is also coiffed and outfitted to complete the illusion. She is also a charming and capable singer and actress. In the first act, set in 1884, she is winsome and funny as Dot, who finds she cannot abide the neglect of her self-absorbed lover, although she loves him passionately. In the second act, which jumps forward in time by 100 years, Chamberlain plays Dot's daughter Marie, now 98. Marie is the grandmother of a modern artist also named George, and she is his anchor in the money-grubbing world of contemporary art.

But if Chamberlain seems to be channeling Peters, that is after all appropriate to the role as it was conceived. The trouble is, George Quick seems to be channeling Tommy Tune. Quick plays George--the tortured, brilliant artist in the first act, and the equally tortured if less brilliant second-act inventor-sculptor.

Quick lacks the gravity--vocally and emotionally--to pull off the role. In the first act, furiously sketching with furrowed brow, he looks like Donny Osmond in a Smith Brothers beard. In George's second-act set piece, a song called "Putting It Together," which is George's lament about the plight of the modern artist, Quick does not have the necessary angst. He may be a likable performer in other contexts, but this is clearly the wrong role for this actor.

In quality, the cast is consistently inconsistent. Eric Anderson is amusingly ominous as a supercilious soldier in the first act and a jealous artist in the second. But the harmoniously named Richard G. Rodgers is lumpen and unconvincing as a philosophical boatman who hangs out on the island of La Grande Jatte, where the first-act George paints his masterwork.

"Sunday in the Park With George" requires steady and sustained attention from its audience, and it is not one of those musicals, like, say, "Hello, Dolly!" that can withstand too many subpar elements. It therefore loses its way, despite director Beth Hansen's understandable decision to stay close to Lapine's original direction (costumer Cristan Jonas and set designer Tim Mueller follow suit).

Sondheim's shimmering score (written to evoke Seurat's painting technique and the quality of his art) sounds almost as haunting on one piano, played by musical director Terence Alaric, as with full orchestra. But without an orchestra, there were tempo problems, and very little building of dramatic tension, which was particularly unfortunate in the emotional climax of Act 1, "We Do Not Belong Together" and Act 2, "Move On."

Consequently, the musical leaks energy like a sieve, until, near the end of the three-hour show, even the actors began to look as if they needed coffee.

* "Sunday in the Park With George," Musical Theatre Company, Festival of the Arts, Forum Theatre, Laguna Beach, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 7 p.m. Also, matinees in August on Saturday and Sunday and on Aug. 28, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 15. $20-$26. (714) 957-TKTS. Running time: 3 hours.

George Quick: George

Andrea Chamberlain: Dot/Marie

Myrna Niles: Old Lady/Blair Daniels

Dynell Leigh: Nurse/Harriet Pawling/Mrs.

Steve Vautrin: Franz/Dennis

D.C. Anderson: Jules/Bob Greenberg

Kathryn Kukulka: Yvonne/Naomi Eisen

Richard G. Rodgers: Boatman/Charles Redmond

D.J. Gray: Celeste No. 1/Elaine

Amber Davidson: Celeste No. 2/Waitress

Molly Siobhan Reynolds: Louise

Shirley Hatton: Freida/Betty

Steve Ross: Louis/Billy Webster

Eric Anderson: A Soldier/Alex

Steve Reynolds: Mr./Lee Randolph

A Musical Theatre Company production. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Beth Hansen. Sets Tim Mueller. Costumes Cristan Jonas. Lights D. Silvo Volonte. Sound David Edwards. Production stage manager Marya Slater.

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