Jake Gyllenhaal sings haunting 33-year-old song about a 133-year-old painting (VIDEO)

You may have seen this actor on the big screen—but this performance is something altogether different.

Spring still seems pretty far off (given the large east coast snowstorms happening and old groundhog Phil seeing his shadow last week), but listening to this video of a Broadway musical rehearsal for “Sunday in the Park with George,” felt like a warm whisper of fresh air.

If you’re not a big fan of the theater, you may have not have heard the news that Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal is starring in the recent revival of 1984 Broadway musical, which opens on February 23 this month. But this breath-taking—and frankly surprising—showcase of Jake’s incredible voice during rehearsals might pique your interest. Especially as musicals seem to be making a big comeback culturally—not just on stage, but on the silver screen too, with hits like this year’s hit, La La Land (currently racking up awards at a red carpet near you).

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So lets put this beautiful song into context, and talk a bit about the play, which is gaining buzz as the video of Jake gets hundreds of thousands of views (now close to a million). This Stephen Sondheim musical is a remake of the 1980s version starring Mandy Patinkin (probably known best for his role in the Princess Bride) and Bernadette Peters (currently starring in Amazon’s TV series Mozart in the Jungle). And while you may not have heard of the play before, you’re probably familiar with the well-known painting that inspired it: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884.

This 1884 painting, a leading historical example of the technique called pointillism in painting, evokes a calming, restful feeling. It depicts a sunlit weekend in the park, complete with a happy and light-hearted crowd relaxing on the grass. But the plot of the play is at odds with the harmonious feeling this painting conjures. The play itself is a fictionalized account of how the painting came to be. Playwright Stephen Sondheim spent days studying the original painting with author James Lepine, at the Chicago Art Institute. After some time, Lepine noticed that the artist himself was missing from the painting, and thus was born this Broadway classic (and book by Lepine) as the two imagined how the famous work may have been created. So the play focuses mainly on the character of the flawed and frustrated artist, George, and his obsession with painting and creating. The audience watches as George’s fixation on perfecting his art ultimately alienates and isolates him from the people he loves most.

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Today is a new day in your life, make it great! #JakeGyllenhaal

A photo posted by Jake Gyllenhaal (@jakegyllenhaaldaily) on

This is where Jake Gyllenhaal shines as George singing “Finishing the Hat.” The song is haunting and moving in a way that should give all of us a bit of a pause—are there things in our own lives that inch their way forward in priority over the people who really matter? Our friends, our loved ones and our faith or goodness? What do we toil for, if not to share in it with those who matter most? Essentially, it boils down to this: Was finishing his masterpiece worth George destroying pieces of his life over? These questions make the play an uneasy story to watch: George wrestles with his perfectionism and it has real consequences on his personal life—an inner turmoil that Jake Gyllenhaal captures in this song.

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Even if this production doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, it’s fascinating that such a complex and intricate story can be culled from a painting that is over a century old, and further, how a Hollywood movie star like Jake can bring a deep and multi-layered character to life in such a gripping and thoughtful new way.

If you’re interested, you can check out tickets for the production here.

Ashley Jonkman
Ashley Jonkman
Ashley is a freelance writer and editor. She lives with her husband, two sons and two rambunctious dogs in Albuquerque, New Mexico.