In “Sunday in the Park with George,” the process of art is the point.
Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, inspired by Georges Seurat’s iconic painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” dives into an artist’s vision — and how this vision changes the people around him.
Act 1 tells a fictionalized account of how Georges Seurat put together his famous work. Act 2 jumps forward 100 years to recount how Georges’ great-grandson, also an artist, deals with both similar and different issues as his prominent forefather.
We spoke with leading lady Jenni Barber (also of Broadway’s “Wicked”) about her role in the play, Sondheim’s magical musical score and the Huntington Theatre’s top-notch production of “Sunday.”
What is it like playing Dot?
Playing Dot is really a dream role. It was created by Bernadette Peters, who nobody can ever replace, because she is just iconic. It is amazing to be able to create a role that is so nuanced and has so many different kinds of expression. Into Act 2, I get to play her daughter, Marie, who is a 98-year-old grandmother. It’s sort of amazing to play both a muse as well as the illegitimate child of the artist. I’m even pregnant in the show, so I go through the full circle of life in the show.
What do you think is the relationship between Act 1 and Act 2 of the play?
I really think the show, in some ways, is two separate stories — each about an artist — that are related in content. But the different challenges: in 1884, for one, and 1984 for the other. And at the end of Act 2, they intersect in this really kind of incredibly beautiful and profound way. In some ways, similar to the way “Into the Woods” is, I feel like Act 2 of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s work are always kind of in conversation with Act 1.
What have you learned about the play in these rehearsals so far?
[The play] really is about process. It’s really about the process of making art and the process of creativity and realizing how many parallels there are with my own work. It absolutely hits on a very visceral level when you are an artist. The other side of it is that it’s also about relationships with an artist. It’s about the conversation between the artist and the audience and what that means.
Do you have a favorite musical number in the play?
There’s not a piece in the show that I don’t absolutely adore. It’s so beautifully composed. It feels like one big gesture, all of the pieces, because the story is so intricately woven into the scenes and the song. The song that sticks out to me is a song in the second act, “Children and Art.” The song was inspired by a jazzy, bluesy Harold Arlen song. I just love singing it so much. It’s about children and art: the only things we can leave behind in this world.
How is the Huntington production of “Sunday in the Park with George” special?
The company is incredible. The entire cast: a lot of Boston locals that I have just loved getting to know. The crew is extraordinary, the designers. The costume shop is outstanding: the most beautiful costumes, so intricately designed. And then the set is designed by Derek McLane. It is outrageously gorgeous. I just think it’s going to be such a feast for the eyes and the ears. It is a beautiful production and I can’t imagine a better one even being in New York.
If you go:
“Sunday in the
Park With George”
Through Oct. 16
264 Huntington Ave. Boston
Tickets begin at $20