Thursday and Friday in the Park with George


Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago.

George Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which the musical is based on.

Vivien Orellana, Staff Writer

After months of hard work, the musical theatre department is ready to present their talent to the whole school. Chamblee students will present Sunday in the Park with George this Thursday and Friday, October 17th and 18th. The play is based on French painter George Seurat and one of his most famous paintings A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Linda Lirette, Chamblee’s musical theatre teacher, described the play.

“Nineteenth-century Parisians from a famous painting come to life in this story of love and what it means to leave our mark on this earth, whether it’s through our relationships with each other or the art that we make,” Lirette said. 

The decision to perform Sunday in the Park with George was made prior to the beginning of the school year.

“We choose Sunday in the Park with George as a class last spring,” said Linda Lirette, the musical theatre and director here at Chamblee. “In musical theatre classes, we listened to and watched clips from various musicals that we thought we might want to produce and Sunday in the Park with George was always on our shortlist.”

Julia Johnson, the play’s stage manager, admired the tone of the musical.

“I like how fluffy it is,” said Johnson. “It still deals with a lot of important things like relationships and stereotypes and how we view different kinds of people but I like how, even though it deals with those heavier things, it’s still a larger than life show. It finds time to be funny and still make you think without you realizing that you’re thinking about something more important.”

Bridget Dowdakin, who acts in the play, was also happy with the choice of performance.

“I’m excited for it,” said Dowdakin. “We’ve broken the fourth wall before and it’s once again another show kind of breaking the fourth wall and it’s historical fiction so that’s exciting. “

The department will only be performing the first act of the musical.

“The second act has some beautiful numbers in it, but it’s also very different,” said Lirette. “It takes place in the twentieth century, whereas the first act that we’re producing takes place in the nineteenth, so we thought it would actually be a really good candidate for [ the One Act competition], because the first act tells its own story and has its own resolution and it’s a lot of fun to do Stephen Sondheim, who is the composer and lyricist as well.”

The final performance is not, however, only the work of the musical theatre department.

“My job would be absolutely impossible if it were not for the fantastic collaborations that we have,” said Lirette. “We are collaborating with the fine arts department as a whole. We have orchestra students performing in our pit. We have band students also performing in our pit.”

Besides help during the performance, there is also a lot of collaboration prior to opening night.

“We have artists who have worked on our set design and have been drawing and painting and actually cutting out the foam cutouts of the set to look like Seurat’s painting, which is a really cool challenge for them, to try to match one of these great artists of the nineteenth century,” said Lirette. “We also got some help from the engineering department. They repaired a chair that we were using and some of the set pieces that we are using this year, the bases were designed by engineering last year or the year before, so we’re recycling some stuff from them as well.”

In addition to the work put in by Chamblee students, the cast and crew have received a great deal of support from the administration and the community.

“We’ve also got wonderfully cooperative administration, who, when I say random things like can I borrow a bench from the front office, they say ‘Yeah, sure, go ahead’,” said Lirette. “We’ve also got community members helping. We have a Grammy-nominated piano player playing with our students and working with them. We have a parent in a technical role this year, and that’s been so helpful, that he’s been able to come in and volunteer his time with us to make a big difference that way. I’ve got booster club parents who are spending their afternoons constantly with us.”

The extra support is appreciated. 

“We’re really, really lucky,” said Lirette. “We’ve got so many people invested in our program who want to give our students the opportunity to aspire to a professional show.”

All that work is coming together as opening night approaches.

“It’s very stressful because you’re always worried,” said Johnson. “What if somebody doesn’t show up? What if something breaks right now? What do we do if a bulb goes out on the lights? What do we do if a set piece breaks? What do we do if an actor gets sick and can’t show up?”

Despite all the worries at the beginning, students often settle in as the night goes on.

“It’s really stressful but once the show starts you sort of relax gradually as it goes along, as you see that everything is going ok,” said Johnson. “Even though opening night is usually a little bit rough, it always ends up being a lot better than we plan for, just because we’re trying to be ready for the worst thing happening, so when it doesn’t happen, it’s like a big weight off your shoulders.”

The actual performances can be a time of mixed emotions for the cast and crew. 

“[Opening Nights] are so nerve-racking, but I love them because it’s the start of something and then I’m really sad because it’s the end of something soon,” said Dowdakin. “I just try to live in the moment, figure out what I need to fix. We’re all very excited. We all talk beforehand and just pray for each other. It’s fun.”

The emotion is not limited to the students involved in the performance.

“It’s always so exciting and terrifying to put on a show,” said Lirette. “There are always going to be things that will surprise you. I’ve learned to prepare for surprises, to prepare for things to be disastrous, and they never are, because we’re ready for that. We are going to have a fantastic opening night and closing night. We’re back to back. It’s Thursday and Friday, this week. It’s a blast. It’s going to be great.”