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“A blank page or canvas” aren’t the only things that offer “so many possibilities,” as SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE tells us.

So does a bare stage.

Eamon Foley certainly knew how to use it in his recent production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winner. He made the 40-year-old musical about a Neo-Impressionist make quite a new impression.

Foley first came into prominence 19 years ago when he appeared in THE AUDIENCE, a 2005 musical about people watching a musical. He played an 11-year-old kid who was wide-eyed and smiled widely while witnessing his first-ever live performance. It spurred him to proclaim in song, “I like what I see.”

And “I like what I see” was precisely the response at his imaginative production received earlier this month at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, NJ.

For Foley’s production was not, to quote a Sondheim lyric, “an ordinary SUNDAY.” He made his imagination soar to the point where it rivaled George’s. In a show that stresses that one should “connect,” Foley made sure his audiences did.

It wasn’t an easy task, for Foley was dealing with a demanding masterpiece. Taking on a magnum opus means taking on a great deal of responsibility. Although Sondheim is no longer around to either praise or damn anyone’s interpretation of his musicals, the many who tackle them would like to think they’re doing his work proud.

That’s especially true of SUNDAY. Of all of Sondheim’s musicals, this one about being an artist and its inherent difficulties probably meant the most to him. Exhibits A and B are his two collections of lyrics. When he was deciding on titles for the books, Sondheim literally had thousands upon thousands of lines he’d written from which to choose. And yet, he called Volume One FINISHING THE HAT and Volume Two LOOK, I MADE A HAT – both of which come from one song in SUNDAY. If he’d only opted one song from this show, we could allow that another musical was his favorite. That he opted for both from SUNDAY suggests that this musical spoke to him most of all.

So, what did Foley do that was so special? He had six ballet dancers, respectively clad in blue, green, orange, red, white and yellow, elegantly en pointe for much of the show. They represented the colors that George Seurat employed in “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” True, George does establish that he uses 11 colors in his famous painting, but there’s only so much the Axelrod budget and stage could handle.

And yet, Foley, who co-produced with Andrew DePrisco, sprung for one extra salary; instead of having one Soldier and one cut-out, they had two actors in the roles.

That second one, of course, had no lines, lyrics or melody to memorize or deliver, which certainly couldn’t be said of Graham Phillips as George and Talia Suskauer as Dot and Marie. These are terribly demanding roles, especially for Act One George when he must deliver “Color and Light.” What a task to unleash what must seem to be a free-association litany. No wonder that George, after listing “red” twice, “blue” eight times before deciding “More red!” and “More blue!” that he realizes what he also needs is “More beer!” Phillips maneuvered through all this and more with a glorious voice.

As focused as George is on his work, Sondheim made room for the character’s humanity when he rued the women in his life and their reaction to his artistic devotion: “They have never understood, and no reason that they should.” Phillips gave the lyrics a truthful world-weariness when singing the couplet.

Suskauer immediately established ferocity and frustration in the show’s title song. This Dot would not go gently into that hot afternoon. As for that night, she showed heartbreaking disappointment when George broke his promise to take her to the Folies Bergère. When Jules and Yvonne keep using the expression “No life,” the two words could, in a different context, describe Dot’s existence. Be romantically involved with a workaholic, and you will indeed have no life.

As powerful a voice full of character that Suskauer displayed in Act One, she offered fragile tenderness when playing the aged Marie in Act Two.

And at the end of “Everybody Loves Louis,” Foley more forcefully established that Dot really didn’t want him as a husband. After Suskaeur seemed resolved and decided that “Louis it is!” while a pastry was stuck in her mouth, she immediately removed it, which was a nice way of showing her second thoughts.

Have we ever felt bad for Louis? Foley made us sympathize by giving him much more stage visibility. Dylan Randazzo earned our admiration as Louis passed out his “art,” piece by piece to each Grande Jatte visitor who’d eagerly lined up to savor his treats. This made us feel more for the man who’s tarred by Sondheim’s cruelest lyric, one that even eclipsed “No, this way, Louise.”

“Louis blinks a bit.”

So, the show soared right through the end of Act One, where the painting came together, as did the stunning harmony from the cast on “Sunday.” But here’s a question: every time you hear the lyric “Sunday, by the blue purple yellow red water,” do you hear what Dan Marcus, the original Officer Barrel in URINETOWN, hears? Sing those eight words, and follow them with “there’ll be sun” from ANNIE’s “Tomorrow,” and you’ll see how well they merge.

In Act Two, Foley didn’t opt for the usual bulky Chromolume that looks like an overgrown R2D2. Instead, behind the scrim he positioned about four dozen Lekos that put on quite a light show. The stage picture he created for the museum visitors was so beautiful that if Seurat were alive, he might well have been inspired to paint it.

Here’s where granddaughter Marie brags about her grandfather’s work, which brings us to the crux of the show: if George had been the type of person who’d drop everything to go to the Folies Bergère, he might have not come up with such a great work of art. No, “Art isn’t easy,” especially when sacrifices must be made. George was willing to make them.)

(Of course, if the entertainment hadn’t been the Folies Bergère but FOLLIES, we would have felt much worse for Dot and would have hated George for denying her such an unforgettable experience.)

There’s also a fun moment in Act Two when audience members turn to one another and exchange surprised looks as soon as George begins singing “Putting It Together.” Although the song never became a best-selling record, it undoubtedly did a lot of selling for Xerox and Ethan Allen furniture, thanks to its use in ubiquitous television commercials during the last years of the 20th century.

The rest of the cast was terrific, too. And yet, one performer who made an especially great impression was Katie Davis as Yvonne, Jules’ wife. He’s supposedly an art savant, so she dutifully follows his lead. Here, though, when Davis’ Yvonne got a serious look at the “Sunday Afternoon” painting, she let us see that she knew what George had accomplished and wondered if she dared tell her opinion to her unimpressed husband.

Sondheim told us what these characters do on “The Day Off.” As for our own days off, many of us have spent them repeatedly listening to the show’s original cast album. Some who spent their day off in Deal, NJ, got a great deal from Eamon Foley’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.