Muhlenberg College has staged a smart, thoughtful and moving musical with its well-done production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George."

This visually fascinating musical is brought to life with outstanding performances by the cast which tackles Sondheim's demanding music with aplomb.

Director James Peck has tied together the various parts into a ultimately satisfying whole.

The show, Sondheim's love letter to the challenges of creating art, is inspired by the French post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat's painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," which is recreated on the stage.

The story follows George, a fictionalized version of Seurat, and his struggles with creating his masterpiece as well as with his troubled relationship with his mistress Dot.George

The second act moves forward 100 years to a contemporary artist who is Seurat's great-grandson and has similar struggles with his art and relationships.

Evan Brooks plays both artists masterfully. As Seurat, Brooks is appealingly eccentric and so wrapped up in his art that it threatens his relationship. Although he is aware he is pushing Dot away, he can't tear himself away from his painting.

Brooks lets the audience see the tormented soul underneath his obsession with his art. He personifies the oft-repeated line "art isn't easy."

As the contemporary artist, Brooks is more thoughtful and personable. He is conflicted and unsure of his art.

Brooks smoothly demonstrates the connection between the two generations of artists. Brooks has a rich, warm voice that he uses well on the difficult music. He sings with passion on two of the show's best known songs "Finishing the Hat," and "Color and Light."

A highlight is "The Day Off" in which Brooks very physically and humorously imagines what two dogs do on their day off and even sings the smaller dog's part entirely in falsetto.

Kelly Shannon is a grounded but frustrated Dot in the first act.

In the second act, she sweetly plays George and Dot's 98-year-old daughter Marie, who also is the grandmother of the contemporary George. She has a powerful voice and channels Bernadette Peters who originated the role on Broadway, on songs like "Move On," and "Everybody Loves Louie." Her "Children and Art," as Marie is touching.

The supporting actors, some of whom are double cast, all strongly contribute to each scene.Jess Orelus is smug and arch as a jealous competing painter who with his wife played by Bree Ogeldez, dismissively sings that George's painting has "No Life."

Lella Michelson gives an achingly human note to George's aging mother. Michelson also is a ruthlessly honest art critic in the second act.

One of the fascinating conceits of the show is that the action moves between the three-dimensional real world and the two-dimensional world of Seurat's painting.

There is some whimsical blurring of the lines such as when George's mother misses an actual tree, after George has removed it from his painting.

At the end of the first act, the company fills the stage recreating the tableau of the painting in the joyful "Sunday" while the second act opens with the characters, still in the same place, peevishly complaining "It's Hot Up Here."

In the second act, the contemporary George slyly puts cardboard cutouts of himself to chat with potential patrons at at party during the amusing "Putting It Together."

The other characters are fun - from a philosophical, but low class, boatman played with just the right edge by Michael Schatz to Tommy Gedrich's soldier, whose companion is a full-size pointillist painting of a soldier.

The orchestra led by Ed Bara is spot on and kept the show running smoothly.

Scenic designer Curtis Dretsch has created an effective frame within a frame stage design that works well for both three-dimensional and two-dimensional scenes.

Giving the stage a painterly effect, is lighting designer Susan Hamburger, who splashes color across the back of the stage and creates an interesting theater-filling light show for the contemporary George's light sculpture "Chromolume #7," which he creates as an artistic response to the "Sunday Afternoon" painting.

Costume designer Matt Riley's overwrought Victorian wear and fussy bustles are perfect.

It is rewarding to see a show that is rarely done and to see it done well. In this wonderful production, the audience is engaged until the end when the final lines, spoken over a white screen, prove most moving.

"Sunday in the Park with George," 8 p.m. Nov. 2-4 and 2 p.. Nov. 5, Muhlenberg College, Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Performing Arts, 24th and Chew streets, Allentown. Tickets: $22; $8, students.

The Nov. 5 performance will feature open captioning for patrons with hearing impairment and audio description for patrons who are visually impaired (call Jess Bien at 484-664-3087 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )\/theatre, 484-664-3333.