Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s animation of Georges Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” pointillist painting is a tough challenge in any circumstances, but former Traverse director Philip Howard’s production for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is little short of miraculous.
As with the college’s Spring Awakening revival last year, the musical standard is extremely high, even if the excellent Robert Dalton has some trouble with a role written for the unusual vocal register of Mandy Patinkin.
Using simple panels and strict staging, Howard manages to convey the beauty of the painting and the shimmering emotional life of the inhabitants, holding a tableau for a short interval before the Chicago Art Institute scene where the painter’s great grandson, a conceptual artist, mixes it with critics and sponsors and his own artistic crisis.
This show is Sondheim’s definitive statement on key tensions in his work between thought and feeling, design and passion, old views and new perspectives; the picture is the perfect metaphor, and yields a creative credo: “If you know where you’re going, you’re gone.”
The discreetly dispersed onstage band is superbly led by Alan Bukowiecki with Sarah de Tute at the keyboard. The clever designer is Eilidh Livingstone, and the whole unlikely exercise a perfect example of “putting it together” against all the odds.