Julian Ovenden, Michael Starobin and More Paint a New Sunday in the Park with George in Paris

By Stéphane Ly-Cuong
16 Apr 2013

Michael Starobin
Michael Starobin
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris is currently offering French audiences its third Stephen Sondheim musical within the last three years: Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George, which is playing the famed venue through April 25.

Set in the city where Georges Seurat (who inspired the musical) was born and died, the production, with new orchestrations by Michael Starobin, is presented in English with French subtitles.

Members of the cast and creative team recently shared their experiences about working on the Parisian production.

Michael Starobin
(Original and new orchestrations)
Two-time Tony Award winner Michael Starobin (Assassins, Next to Normal) was the orchestrator of the original Broadway production of Sunday in the Park With George in 1984. For the Paris premiere, he wrote new orchestrations for a 46-piece orchestra (instead of 11 originally).



About the original Broadway production:
"Sunday in the Park was my very first Broadway show. I had done work Off-Broadway with James Lapine, who introduced me to Stephen Sondheim. I was only 27 at the time; it was quite a rare opportunity to work for Steve. I was quite excited, but if I had really understood how important a project it was, I would have been much more frightened! But being 27, I had no idea what I was actually involved with, and that ignorance was very helpful to let me be creative and to make brave choices."

About the unusualness of Sunday in The Park With George:
"Before Sunday, I had done March of The Falsettos: That was an unsual musical. But when I got to Sunday, I was so surprised at the subject matter, the way the songs were written, the minimalism within the score and how it was used to portray pointillism. There are many remarkable things, including James Lapine's book, which is so poetic and quirky. Everyone notices Steve because he writes the most wonderful songs, but often, what gets missed is how unusual his collaborators are, particularly James Lapine and John Weidman. How, as dramatists, they provide a unique framework, which gives Steve the freedom to do such inventive things."

About finding the right balance in the orchestrations:
"There are numbers like 'We Do Not Belong Together' where Steve's writing approach is very operatic in the emotions the two characters are expressing. Having a large orchestra allows me to respond to that emotion, but hopefully not taking it over the top so it's too emotional, which is my worry. When you have a symphonic orchestra, sometimes, you can be too big. You have have to keep the right balance for sound, but more importantly, the right balance for emotion. If I overplay it, then it's not coming from the characters but from the orchestra. I need to support their emotion, not do it for them. That's the challenge for me with a large band."

 Continued...