Broadway Features and Reviews
The Sam Buntrock Broadway Mystery
By Edith Haight, Broadway Magazine
In the Tony Award nominations announced this week, one of the most praiseworthy pool of nominees this season is to be found in the "Best Direction Of A Musical" category. While previous revivals have found success "re-envisioning" a Broadway musical in darker hues, like Cabaret, the previous Gypsy or Carousel, this season's group of directors are refreshingly and non-traditionally traditional in their approach.
Viewing this excellent group of nominees together in a room would be a sight indeed. Here is the legend Arthur Laurents, who put his new stamp on his old show. There sits Barlett Sher, the mastermind behind the Lincoln Center revival of "South Pacific", who had the vision (like Laurents) to trust the central integrity of the musical rather than inject and radically alter the show. Next to Sher stands Thomas Kail who helped give "In The Heights" a traditional feel while incorporating an eclectic mix of music and narrative. Finally, with his laptop close by, there is the odd-upstart Sam Buntrock.
What makes Sam Buntrock's successful production of "Sunday In The Park With George" so engaging is that it offers a seamless blend of message and medium. That is to say, Buntrock is perhaps both the most aggressively traditional while at the same time is the most profoundly innovative. His resume has none of the epic highlights of Laurents }whose does?), it also lacks the Broadway accomplishments of Sher. What Buntrock does have is a background in animation and film-making, and these are the qualities that allowed him to bring this awkwardly beautiful gem of a musical to a new place with the current Broadway revival.
In a way, Buntrock's accomplishments have been reduced to technological. Reports in the New York Post have indicated that the active hand of Steven Sondheim and James Lapine had intervened to help shape the performances as the show moved from its tiny first production, to London, and then on to Broadway.
Such reports diminish Buntrock's achievement in the most unfortunate way. Success has many fathers, and to deny the inherent vision of bringing "Sunday In The Park" alive with such a decidedly delightful and modern innovations is selfish of those who began the rumors in the first place. Without Buntrock's contribution, this revival doesn't leave London, let alone garner Tony nominations.
Sondheim's musical is a wonderful consideration of art, life, and legacy. More than anything else though, it is a musical about possibilities. What Buntrock has seized on with his production is that design and technology can contribute to a show's meaning, rather than distract from it. It is all well and good to have a Broadway filled with spectacle and epic size, but the Buntrock proposition in its largest sense suggests that there are indeed ways in which technological innovation can be complimentary to a Broadway production. No longer is the choice between grand spectacle (South Pacific) or bare-bones production (Gypsy), Buntrock's production indicates that there is another way that is both smaller and larger at the same time. While Sher may be the genius, Laurents the grand master, and Kail the fresh face, Buntrock is clearly breaking new ground and making a unique contribution to what is possible on Broadway.
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