Eight Reasons to see Sunday in the Park with George at Ponca Playhouse

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Ponca Playhouse Cast.
Original Painting.

Eight Reasons to see "Sunday in the Park with George" at Ponca Playhouse

by Hugh Pickens published in the Ponca City News on May 31, 2024

Fans of live theater are in for a special treat for the next two weekends, as Ponca Playhouse presents their annual musical which this year is "Sunday in the Park with George" by Stephen Sondheim. Here are eight reasons why you don't want to miss this show.

Stephen Sondheim.

Stephen Sondheim is a giant on Broadway. The late American composer and lyricist is regarded as one of the most important figures in 20th-century musical theater and is credited with reinventing the American musical. Sondheim began his career by writing the lyrics for West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959) and transitioned to writing both music and lyrics for the theater, with his best-known works including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Into the Woods (1987), and Passion (1994). I was a little surprised to learn that this is the first time that a Sondheim musical has been presented in Ponca City perhaps because Sondheim's music and lyrics are somewhat challenging and the production requires a large cast. (Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd was presented last year by NOC in Tonkawa). However Ponca Playhouse was up to the task and presented a musical that holds its own even compared to a professional production. As an aside if you really want to enjoy this show as much as possible I recommend that before you see the musical you go to YouTube and watch the original Broadway production of "Sunday in the Park with George" with original cast members Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters on "Great Performances" on PBS. You can find the show by doing a google search on the following terms: youtube pbs. Sunday in the Park.

The story.

Don't come to this musical expecting a plot driven story like "The Sound of Music" or "Oklahoma!" Sunday in the Park is primarily character driven and was inspired by French painter Georges Seurat and his painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", considered one of the half dozen most popular paintings in the world and part of the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting is a leading example of pointillist technique and is a founding work of the neo-impressionist movement. The painting is composed of hundreds of thousands of daubs of color. The musical tells the story of Seurat as he immerses himself deeply in painting his masterpiece and examines the creative process and reflecting the attention to detail Sondheim himself goes through creating a musical, something he calls "Finishing the Hat" which is also the title of the song Seurat performs while working on his masterpiece in his studio near the end of Act 1. Not surprisingly Sondheim says that "Sunday in the Park with George" is his most autobiographical musical. Act one concerns the French painter in 19th century France and his creation of the painting , which took more than two years to complete. Act Two skips 100 years into the future and deals with an artistic crisis experienced by Seurat’s great grandson, an American conceptual artist in his 40s also named George.

The Director.

The Director Ryan Brown grew up in the Playhouse and has been performing there since 2007. He has appeared in over 20 productions in the past 10 years and has directed half a dozen plays most recently the 2021 production of "Man of La Mancha:. Ryan fell in love with "Sunday in the Park with George" during college, and immediately started thinking of how to accomplish this beautiful and complex piece in the Playhouse. “This show speaks to the artist in all of us. Wanting to leave behind something that is bigger than us. I hope everyone comes out to see this overwhelmingly talented cast put on one of Stephen Sondheim's greatest works.”

The Leading Man.

The role of George Seurat is a challenging one. The leading man is onstage almost every second of the musical and requires a singer with the strength, stamina and talent to sing the lead in half a dozen songs. Chad Anderson, the Director of Theatre at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa is a wonderfully talented actor and director whose past Playhouse appearances include Jinx in "Forever Plaid", Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha", and Dexter Haven in "High Scoiety", among many others.

The Leading Lady.

Emily Rose Parman plays Dot, Seurat's model, mistress, and muse. Emily provides the perfect complement to Chad Anderson's performance. Emily is a freelance theatre director, designer, and performer, and serves as the Department Specialist for Visual and Performing Arts at Cowley College. She recently made her Playhouse stage debut as Alonso in Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, which she also directed. Emily spent the bulk of her career as a theatre professional in New York City before returning to the Midwest in 2021. Emily provides the perfect counterpoint to Chad's performance and Emily's interpretation of Dot provides just the right amount of sass as she verbally spars with Chad in the opening number of the play as she asks "George. Why is it you always get to sit in the shade while I have to stand in the sun? Hello, George? There is someone in this dress!" Emily and Chad also sing a beautiful duet, "We Do Not Belong Together", as the two of them realize that they have no future together and she decides to leave France for America pregnant with Suerat's child, Marie. Emily reappears in act 2 to 100 years later as Marie now 99 years old and she sings one of the highlights of the play "Children and Art", the only two things that last. Marie tells Seurat about her mother, attempting to pass on a message about the legacy we leave behind.

Supporting Cast.

Sunday in the Park with George has a large cast of supporting actors. Basically, every figure that appears in the painting represents a character in the play. The supporting cast includes. I would like to highlight several members of the supporting cast whose whose performances I found most memorable and compelling. First, Sam Stewart plays Seaurat's cranky Mother to perfection. Blake Brown plays Seurat's friend Jules and does an excellent job of conveying Jule's envy of Seurat. Finally Alee Hunt plays a flirtatious coquette along with Amberlynn Kelly. Although it is a minor part, Allee has a charisma that draws your eye to her during the show and I am sure that we will be seeing more of Alee in the future, perhaps at the Playhouse, or perhaps on a larger stage. Anyone who has seen Alee perform with the Roustabouts at NOC knows that she is a star in the making. and someday we may be saying "we knew her when."

Staging.

I have seen this musical performed professionally. and I will admit that I was somewhat skeptical when I heard that the Playhouse would be putting it on this year because the musical requires elaborate staging and I was dubious as to whether it could be performed in the confined space of the Black Box Theatre. I'm happy to report that my skepticism was misplaced. The transitions between scenes are seamless and I was especially impressed by the scene in which Seurat is painting in his studio as he talks with Dot. The use of a silk screen was brilliant and conveyed perfectly what it was like for Seurat to actually paint the painting. You will probably not be able to figure out how this scene was done the first time you see it and I admit that I initially thought that the image of Chad was recorded or being projected on a large LCD screen.

Costumes.

A period piece like this musical which takes place in the late 19th century loses all credibility and falls apart if the costumes are not convincing. I am happy to report that, as always, longtime playhouse veteran Melody Parman has outdone herself in this production creating period costumes for more than 20 actors and actresses which help transport the audience back to 1880s Paris. The bottom line is "Don't miss this musical". It is both inspiring and entertaininng and highlights the enormous amount of theatrical talent that we have in north central Oklahoma. The Playhouse should be proud that they can put on such a challenging production in such a professional manner.

Pickens Bio

Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens
Dr. Pickens and Hugh Pickens celebrated 33 years of marriage before Dr. Pickens passed away in 2017.
Pickens Museum opens on NOC Tonkawa Campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College)

Hugh Pickens (Po-Hi '67) is a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon jungle, commissioned microwave communications systems across the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia, and built satellite control stations for Goddard Space Flight Center in Australia, Antarctica, Guam, and other locations around the world. Retired in 1999, Pickens and his wife of 33 years moved from Baltimore back to his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2005 where he cultivates his square foot garden, mows seven acres of lawn, writes about local history, photographs events at the Poncan Theatre, produces the annual Oklahoma Pride series with his wife at Ponca Playhouse, and recently sponsored the first formal dinner in the Marland Mansion in 75 years. Pickens is founder and Executive Director of Pickens Art Museum with locations at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, and Pickens Gallery at Woolaroc. Pickens can be contacted at hughpickens@gmail.com. Pickens is a covid survivor and a stroke survivor.

Personal Statement

Most days you will find me sitting in my easy chair with an HP laptop or a book in front of me. I enjoy intellectual pursuits: studying, writing, reading, researching, analyzing, and predicting. During my off time I like riding the backroads of Oklahoma in my hot rod, working out, watching old movies on TCM, playing games like chess or dominoes, participating in community theatre, and, my secret pleasure, reading trashy detective novels by John D. MacDonald. I enjoy theater and concerts and I go to NYC several times a year to see Broadway shows and visit galleries and museums.

Pickens' Publishing

In 1996, Pickens edited and published ''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?'', the memoirs of Jack Crandall, professor of history at SUNY Brockport. Since 2001 Pickens has edited and published “Peace Corps Online,” serving over one million monthly pageviews. Pickens' other writing includes contributing over 2,000 stories to “Slashdot: News for Nerds,” and articles for Wikipedia, and “Ponca City, We Love You”. Pickens has written the following articles available on his wiki at Research and Ideas.

History and Biography

I enjoy doing in-depth research on one person and writing a detailed biography of lesser known events or figures. I like to find someone, an artist, a politician, a former Peace Corps Director, or an Oklahoman, that I like and am interested in learning more about them and writing their biography from scratch. I started and filled out dozens of biographies when I wrote for Wikipedia back in the stone age in the early 2000's when they were getting started. But Wikipedia became too bureaucratic and political for me so now I research and write biographies on my own mediawiki platform. (I only make anonymous edits to Wikipedia now usually on the discussion pages.)

Science and Technology

I graduated with a degree in physics from SUNY Brockport in 1970 and have worked in science and technology my entire career. I have held such jobs as Geophysical Observer on a geological survey crew in the amazon jungle, running a portable hydrocarbon detection laboratory on an oil rig, systems engineer for the microwave communications system and supervisory control system on the 800-mile long Trans-Andean Pipeline, independent contractor to Collins Radio in 1979 installing, commissioning, and testing microwave repeater stations all over Saudi Arabia, military advisor to the Royal Saudi Navy on naval communications, navigation, and fire control systems (1980 - 84), project engineer, then project manager for Bendix Fields Engineering (later becoming AlliedSignal Technical Services, then Honeywell Technical Services) from 1984 until my retirement in 1999.

Business and Investing

I am a speculator and enjoy designing and executing trading strategies that exploit market inefficiencies through my assessment and evaluation of information asymmetries, market psychology, and human emotion. Over the years I have put together several open-source histories of companies I am interested in including micro-caps that I have invested in.

Ponca City, Oklahoma

I was born and grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, a town of about 25,000 somewhat isolated in North Central Oklahoma (a two hour drive to the nearest metropolitan areas in Tulsa, OKC, and Wichita.). After I left Ponca City to go to college, I worked overseas and on the East Coast for 30 years. But my wife and I came back to Ponca after our retirement in 1999.

Ponca City is an interesting amalgam of historical developments including being being founded and created from scratch during and after the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893, becoming an oil boom town in the 1920's, home of the "Palace on the Prairie" built by oil magnate E.W. Marland, home to Conoco's R&D facility employing hundreds of Phd.'s in the 1950's, 60's and 70's giving Ponca a character of a university town, and finally the continual influence of Native American tribes on our history especially the Ponca tribe and Osage Nation. Some interesting articles I have researched and written about Ponca City include:

Pickens Museum

Pickens Museum is a distributed museum that is active in three location: Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and at Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The museum has plans to build a 15,000 ft2 art museum on highway 60 West of Ponca City, Oklahoma. in the next few years.

Art

Peace Corps Writing

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru from 1970 - 73 working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education teaching high school science teachers how to build lab equipment out of simple, cheap materials. In 2000 I started "Peace Corps Online" to document the work volunteers are doing around the world both during and after the Peace Corps Service. I ran the web site for ten years and posted about 10,000 stories. Even though the site is no longer active, I still get over 50,000 monthly pageviews.

Personal

Phillips 66

Conoco and Phillips 66 announced on November 18, 2001 that their boards of directors had unanimously approved a definitive agreement for a "merger of equals". The merged company, ConocoPhillips, became the third-largest integrated U.S. energy company based on market capitalization and oil and gas reserves and production. On November 11, 2011 ConocoPhillips announced that Phillips 66 would be the name of a new independent oil and gasoline refining and marketing firm, created as ConocoPhillips split into two companies. ConocoPhillips kept the current name of the company and concentrated on oil exploration and production side while Phillips 66 included refining, marketing, midstream, and chemical portions of the company. Photo: Hugh Pickens all rights reserved.

For nearly 100 years oil refining has provided the bedrock of Ponca City's local economy and shaped the character of our community. Today the Ponca City Refinery is the best run and most profitable of Phillips 66's fifteen worldwide refineries. The purpose of this collection of reports is to provide a comprehensive overview of Phillips 66's business that documents and explains the company's business strategy and execution of that strategy.

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