Friday, March 3, 2017

Sunday in the Park with Phil

Phillip Fazio
by Jennifer Haaland

'Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new'

"Those words are the reason for the show's existence," says Phillip Fazio, the New York director of Theater Works' current masterpiece of musical theatre, Sunday in the Park with George.

The local critics have raved about the Peoria production, and two soaring weekends of the Stephen Sondheim show support that it needs to make all theatre-goers must-see list during this final weekend.  George Seurat, whose famous pointillist painting is the subject around which the sweeping score and century-jumping story revolve, is played by Joshua Vern. Alanna Kalbfleisch plays his muse, model and love, Dot.

In a phone interview from Manhattan a few days ago, Fazio visited about Sondheim, about art and about his very personal, impassioned approach to this 1985 Pulitzer drama winner.   Asserting that Sondheim is our modern-day Shakespeare, Fazio has good reason to have poured his life blood into this production.

"The quality of work is unparalleled in both of them," Fazio begins.  "They both leap effortlessly between widely varying styles.  Each have a depth and volume of work that's unmatched," he continues, drawing in an example from Sunday. "We'd be hard pressed to find a poetry of lyrics alongside the clever wit in the 'dog song' in a show this complex anywhere other than in Shakespeare."

He cites, too, that Shakespeare and Sondheim parallel one another in public reception, that they both have had outrageous successes next to criticized misfires.

"Some may think Sunday in the Park has a second act that's not flashy. But it's the lesson we need to hear. We follow a family lineage so that art and the artist are finally able to move on," he says of the show's second half that Valley critics are calling "technically superb."

the cast of Sunday in the Park with George
photo by Wade Moran
So, it's Sunday in the Park with George and Phil and Will.  And Jake.  Box office smash Jake Gyllenhaal is George in the newly opened production currently selling out on Broadway, which grew out of a very limited run of a Gyllenhaal concert version in October that Fazio saw.

"Gyllenhaal 's commitment was 100%," Fazio described about the performance he saw just as he was about to start work on Peoria's show. "Even though it was a concert-like setting with actors using music stands and scripts, Gyllenhaal was completely off  book, pursued it with passion."

Though he was already thoroughly immersed and invested, seeing another set of artists'  and their level of devotion pushed Fazio even harder as he shared his vision and nurtured similar commitment from his Theater Works cast.

Now back in New York after opening his Phoenix Valley show with great success, Fazio too is moving on.... with help from this production of Sunday in the Park with George.  Three days after flying back East, Fazio was invited to a final interview and directors' lab for the Penn State MFA program.  During those interview sessions he cited frequently examples and his methods in mounting Peoria's production.

"The next day, Penn State offered me one of only two fully-funded, three-year MFA candidate slots in directing. I get to spend all my time doing what I love most, working and directing.... both here in the United States and abroad."

Not only did he strongly coach his actors about the show's central message, Fazio lives it.  In his artistic work, he's taken Theater Works production of Sunday in the Park with George, channeled through his own visionary heart and made something new.

"Something about our emphasis on Act II has a greater and different emotional impact than I've seen in other productions," Fazio reflects.

See it. Tonight, tomorrow or Sunday.  For all its artistic triumph, crowning music and bittersweet love, Sunday--like Will and Phil and excellent Valley art--will 'keep moving on.'

"I can never get enough of Sunday. It never stops growing and always has something more to offer," Fazio concludes.

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to Sunday in the Park with George at Theater Works

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