J-Term Musical Explores the Ordinary in an Extraordinary Way

By RILEY BOARD

COURTESY PHOTO
The J-term musical is based on the life of the artist Georges Seurat, and the creation of his famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte.”

Now in its 14th year, the J-Term musical, a collaboration between the college and the Town Hall Theater, will present Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” this weekend. The musical production began in 2004 when Applied Music Faculty member Carol Christensen teamed up with Doug Anderson of the Town Hall Theater, and initially had a cast of six. However, over a decade later, the production has grown into a company of 22, and is a significant cultural event for the Middlebury community, within both the college and the town.

 The musical fictitiously recounts the life of Georges Seurat, the 19th century French painter, and, as Christensen puts it, “his struggle with the demands of his art and its impact on his relationships, as he created his legendary painting, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte.”’ The two lead roles in the musical have been double cast, and Seurat will be played on alternating nights by Zach Varricchione  ’21 and Michael Koutelos ’20, while his love interest Dot will be played by Olivia Christie ’19 and Ashley Fink ’19.

 This particular musical is not the most well-known or popular, but according to Christensen, who serves as the Musical Director, and the cast, it is an impactful and exciting production with a unique score. “I’d say of all the musical scores I have played in the past 15 years, this particular Sondheim score is perhaps the most stunningly beautiful,” she said.

 The musical provides Middlebury students with a unique opportunity to interact with residents of the town, and in its 14 years of production, the show has become a staple of entertainment in the community — in fact, all of the tickets often sell out within one day. Anderson, who serves as stage director for the show, notes that the musical is “one of the places where the school and the town community come together.”

“My whole staff here are local, but for three weeks in January, this building is full of both students and local people,” he said. “And that coming together of town and gown is what makes this special, and what makes it so enormously popular.”

 Fink, who plays Dot, believes there is a lot for audiences to be excited about. “There will be wonderful choral numbers of the entire cast singing, which have so much power and spirit,” she said. “[Audiences] will be learning something about the prominent painter Georges Seurat, hearing great music, and hearing a story they can relate to.” 

Both Fink and Christie, who also plays Dot, have been in four J-term musicals over the years, and this will be their last. “I’m feeling like I’ve come full circle,” Christie said.

Varricchione, who plays George, and Christie’s on-stage chemistry dates back to his first year of high school, where they performed in show choir together. The two remain close friends and have appreciated working opposite each other. 

“I’ve been having a lot of fun working with Zach, he’s one of my best friends and it’s been great working on something so intense with him,” Christie said. “We support each other in real life, not just on stage, so that’s been really fruitful.”

 All of the cast members noted how much of a challenge the music of Sondheim is to learn and perform. This particular production is also challenging because of the limited time frame that the cast has to rehearse — students begin rehearsing the music in fall semester with Christensen, but cannot begin staging the show until J-term, giving them less than three weeks to pull everything together.

 “On the Monday before the Friday opening you always think ‘we’ll never open.’ But I’ve learned that these performers are very sharp people,” Anderson said. “I’ve been immensely proud of every single one of them, and I’m sure this will be success.”

 “Sunday in the Park with George” is not a musical many are familiar with, but Christensen believes that audiences will see themselves in the show and consider how their own “passion for creativity” influences their experience of life, as it did for Seurat.

 “The core of the show is about finding beauty in the most ordinary things and being reminded why we create art. It shows characters that we all either know in our own lives or identify with personally and it evokes an emotional response,” Varricchione said. “It’s been so fun exploring the ordinary in an extraordinary way.”

 All of the performances are sold out, but students can still see “Sunday in the Park with George” tonight, Thursday, Jan. 24. There is a suggested donation of five dollars per student, 10 for adults, and ticket sales will begin at 6:30 p.m. Those still interested in seeing the performances can call the Town Hall Theater to be added to the waitlist.

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