Sunday In The Park With George

Original Broadway Cast

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Details At A Glance

Category Musical Main Menu Animation
Audio Commentary - Stephen Sondheim (Composer) et al
Notes - Cast and Crew Credits
Notes - Awards
DVD Credits
Notes - Thanks
Year Released 1985
Running Time 145:08 minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (71:34)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director James Lapine
Warner Vision
Warner Vision Australia
Starring Mandy Patinkin
Bernadette Peters
Charles Kimbrough
Barbara Byrne
Dana Ivey
Mary D'Arcy
Brent Spiner
Robert Westenberg
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $39.95 Music Stephen Sondheim

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 256 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles Spanish
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Flushed with the almost euphoria of delights that were found in the unexpected gem that is Into The Woods, I approached the review of the slightly earlier Sunday In The Park With George with somewhat more enthusiasm than perhaps I would normally muster. After all, I really have no idea what exactly prompted me to stick my hand up to review this particular DVD. Still, that euphoric feeling was enough to start this reviewing session off with some enthusiasm.

    It did not last long.

    Just about everything that made Into The Woods such a welcome experience is missing here in abundance. Okay, I knew about as much about this musical as I did about Into The Woods going into the review session, but coming out I really wish that I had never stuck my hand up to do the review. No great characters, no great catchy tunes, no genuine humour and a story that defies even more interpretation than that of Into The Woods. Suffice it to say, Sunday In The Park With George is definitely only for real fans of the genre or the lead performers. Everyone else would be well-advised to head off in search of greener forests than this.

    After all, where does one start about a musical based upon a painting? For those not so artistically inclined, the musical is based upon a sort of "what-if" story behind the most famous painting of George Seurat, a French artist who lived a tragically short life between 1859 and 1891. The painting is Un Dimanche d'ete a la Grande-Jatte - Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte if your French is about as good as mine. This rather revolutionary painting is best known for its bold use of a new style of painting that did not use mixed colours but rather a palette of a minimal number of fixed colours. These were applied to the canvas in a dot like fashion and it was left to the eye to "mix" the colours when viewed from a normal distance. The painting took two years for George Seurat to complete between 1884 and 1886 and Act One of the musical is basically the story of the painting of the painting. La Grande Jatte is an island in the River Seine which was a favoured haunt of all classes on Sunday afternoons, to be seen and to see. The first act covers the possible inspirations for the characters depicted in the painting. The central characters are of course George (Mandy Patinkin) and his model/lover Dot (Bernadette Peters), and their interactions with each other and other people as their relationship suffers the strain of George's commitment to the painting.

    Act Two returns us to the centenary of the painting and sees George's grandson, namely George (Mandy Patinkin), and daughter Marie (Bernadette Peters) presenting an homage of sorts to the great painting. This presentation is taking place in Chicago, the current location of the painting. The common thread throughout the musical is of the sacrifices that people make to their art - and questions whether that sacrifice is to some extent warranted.

    Featuring the same talent as Into The Woods, the result is something entirely different indeed. Whether it was the subject matter or some other reason, the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim just do not seem to have the same zip as in the later musical. The directorial work of James Lapine is also not in the same league as the later musical, but the way the musical is presented is perhaps more the reason here than anything expressly wrong with his work. This apparently copped the Pulitzer Prize for Drama which perhaps can be interpreted as an indication of the lack of competition rather than this being any great masterpiece. It certainly did not win any Tonys, usually the mark of truly great theatre. The cast assembled here is certainly decent enough, with the standouts being the two leads obviously. However, it just lacks serious distinction across the entire cast in my view.

    This is certainly a musical that challenges to a large extent conventional thinking on music theatre. Whether it is a success or not I would not like to make any definitive call on. However, I would suggest that the reason why people go to the theatre is to be entertained and really with the best will in the world, I would have difficulty calling this entertainment. True aficionados of the theatre will revel in this but those of us with less understanding of the theatre would certainly be best advised to give this a miss.

Transfer Quality


    This is a 1985 recording made for television and it shows very much in the transfer. This I would pick for being as old as it looks. The transfer is presented in the native format of television, namely the Full Frame format and therefore it is not 16x9 enhanced. It is most assuredly not a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer as indicated on the packaging.

    This really is anything but a sharp transfer and almost looks like a good VHS tape. This is not the fault of the DVD mastering I hasten to add, but rather the nature of the source material. There are the almost obligatory slight lapses in focus dotted throughout the transfer and this is compounded just a little by the distinct lack of definition in the transfer. You really would be hard-pressed to find any sort of sharp definition here at all. Part of the reason again is the stage setting for the musical, which seems to have a rather soft, muted style to it. Shadow detail is not spectacular, but then again it did not really need to be. This is also not an especially clear transfer, a reflection of the age of the source material, and it is fortunate that there are no really serious indications of grain here at all. There did not seem to be any problem at all with low level noise in the transfer.

    Whilst I have not seen the original painting in real life, I have seen it many times in books and so on, and have seen Seurat's earlier painting Une Baignade in London. From my recollections of these, the style of Seurat's painting is to relatively muted colours, more pastelly than usual. This is certainly the style of the transfer and I can only presume that it was a deliberate attempt to evoke the muted nature of the painting. Accordingly, you really do not expect any problems with oversaturation and colour bleed and there certainly do not appear to be any. However, the style of the colours added to the lack of definition in the transfer certainly result in a transfer that I found just a little tiring to watch. There really could have been a bit more tone of the colours here. The blacks and whites really are not blacks and whites.

    I am presuming that this was filmed on videotape, as there are a number of video artefacts that draw attention to themselves here. Remember those rather annoying white interference lines on VHS tapes? A few get to display themselves here (around 59:53 and 66:46). There seem to be video glitches at various points between 82:30 and 85:00, with a rather extreme example also appearing noticeably at the lower right of the picture at about 78:12. Add in some wobble at about 6:48 and some rather noticeably jumps in the video stream around 34:11, 53:33 and 84:38, and the overall effect is quite similar to a VHS tape. In other words, there are some source material problems here that no amount of superb mastering is going to overcome. Apart from these problems, there did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer, there did not appear to be any film-to-video artefacts in the transfer and there did not appear to be any film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD and the layer change comes at 71:34. Whilst it comes mid-scene, it is quite decently handled and is not especially disruptive to the flow of the musical. There is unlikely to be a better place to put it anyway, since I doubt that there would have been enough mastering room to allow this to get to the intermission - the most logical place for a layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to both of the soundtracks. Note that the reference to Dolby Digital 5.1 sound on the packaging is an error.

    The dialogue and vocals come up extremely well in the soundtrack and are always easy to understand. There did not seem to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    As indicated earlier, this is not to my mind an especially wonderful piece of work from Stephen Sondheim, although my view seems to be out of sorts with the rest of the world.

    Once again we have a Stephen Sondheim musical where we can forget about any surround or bass channel use. Whilst I suppose a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack would almost be a waste of time in this sort of show, you really do at times wish for a bit more dynamic in the soundtrack. I know that both Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters have fine voices, but this soundtrack really does not capture them that well. It could perhaps have benefited from a little more air in the sound, but there is nothing really wrong with the soundtrack per se.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Well after a number of musically orientated DVDs with an awful lot of nothing in the way of extras, this one heads off into feature film territory with an audio commentary!


    A quite nicely themed effort this one, with some nice animation to it if nothing else.

Audio Commentary - Stephen Sondheim (Composer), James Lapine (Director), Mandy Patinkin (Talent) and Bernadette Peters (Talent)

    This is something entirely unexpected, but very welcome indeed. Recorded in 1998 with the participants seated around a table watching a tape of the show without sound, the result is quite unusual. A mixture of some extraneous comments with some screen specific stuff, this actually works pretty well. Whilst there are some flat, silent spots to contend with, there is a lot of insightful stuff about the gestation of the musical, about the cast and so on that slowly but surely ingratiates itself to you. In the end this was quite an enjoyable experience and they are definitely right on one thing - you should watch the show without sound. Mind you, I think they were indicating you should for a different reason than I would...

Notes - Cast and Crew Credits

    Basically potted history of the stage and television credits for the main cast and crew (those on the commentary) with additional details of recordings in the case of the cast. Hardly essential stuff and not a good alternative to full blown biographies and filmographies/discographies/whatever the equivalent word is for stage works (playographies?)

Notes - Awards

DVD Credits

Notes - Thanks

R4 vs R1

    It would seem that this is pretty much identical to the Region 1 release, although there are not an awful lot of online reviews of the DVD to refer to here. PAL formatting would probably tip the scales in favour of Region 4 but not by an awful lot.


    Well Sunday In The Park With George ended up being a bit of a drudge as far as reviewing is concerned. Perhaps I would be more enthusiastic if I had reviewed this before Into The Woods, but I doubt it. The entire concept of the show leaves me a little cold and I really would suggest that unless you are a huge fan of the genre, or the main cast members, you would be much better advised to check out Into The Woods rather than this effort.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
29th January 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL