For all the theatergoers who snub musicals, Jenna Russell, the 40-year-old actress who plays Dot in Sunday in the Park With George on Broadway, assures you that Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics will change your mind. “The more life kind of beats you about a bit, you understand what James [Lapine, the book scribe] and Stephen Sondheim were writing about, the struggles they were trying to illuminate,” she told The Observer over the phone. “Relationships to your parents, relationships with your children, to be creative, to leaving some sort of permanence in the world, death and love and redemptions, all those things. It seems to touch people in very different, personal ways.”
The London revival of the play swept the prestigious 2007 Laurence Olivier Awards, including a Best Actress trophy for Ms. Russell. Growing up poor in working-class London, even living in a Hackney squat at one point, Ms. Russell says she relates to Dot, the illiterate yet witty mistress of self-absorbed painter Georges Seurat (played by her British co-star Daniel Evans), most famous for the Pointillist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. But Ms. Russell “fell in love” with Marie, the 98-year-old woman she plays in the second act. Marie sings “Children and Art,” a number that almost moves Ms. Russell to tears on a nightly basis. “Stephen writes things that kind of go primal,” she explained. “It gets under your skin. It’s magic, alchemy. Something happens to us onstage and to the audience and it’s stunning.”
Sunday in the Park With George plays at the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 through May 18. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 212-719-1300.