How "Sunday in the Park with George" resonates with Annaleigh Ashford

From a sassy assembly line worker making “Kinky Boots” on Broadway to a prostitute-turned-carnal-research-collaborator in Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” Annaleigh Ashford has been a master on stage and on screen.

Now the 31-year-old Ashford is starring in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” where she plays a mistress of the late 19th century French artist Georges Seurat, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The project, which started as a live concert earlier this year, had the Oscar nominee seeing stars, reports CBS News contributor Jamie Wax.

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford star in Broadway’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“We did this show as a stage reading initially, where Annaleigh and I, we knew we were going to be doing it for four nights,” Gyllenhaal said, “and I kind of immediately just fell in love with her. … So in a lot of ways it’s all about connection and the people you’re working with, particularly in the theater. And in this case, she’s- I just want to spend more time with her.”

Ashford accepted the role while she was still pregnant with her first son.

“And when they asked me to do it, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll have a 6-week-old. He’ll be fine,’” Ashford said. “He just, like, sleeps, and he’ll eat a lot and he’ll be- they sleep so much that- he didn’t sleep. And he ate a lot. And it was kind of crazy. I can’t believe I did it.”

“There is a famous line from ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ that ‘there are only two things that last: children and art.’ That line’s gotta speak to you very much right now in your life,” Wax said.

“Oh, my gosh. I mean Marie literally says, ‘There are only two worthwhile things to leave behind when you depart this world: children and art.’ And I think that line is so profound. And it’s even more profound to me as a mother and to me as an artist in the time that we’re living in,” Ashford said. “We’re in a -- not just country, but world that’s so divided right now. And I think, as an artist, we have such a duty to take our audience into the world of the play and teach and grow and learn and explore.”

Ashford, who was raised by a single mother, began performing at an early age outside Denver. She graduated from high school in just three years and, at age 16, moved to New York City for college. Her first role on Broadway came in “Legally Blonde,” followed by the Broadway mainstay “Wicked.”

“No career like this happens right away. What were some of the hard times?” Wax asked.

“I actually went to EPAs (Equity Principal Auditions) and chorus calls for the first three years that I moved here. And I never got called back to one of them... Those years of not even a callback were so valuable in me finding my reason for doing it and also kind of a fire to keep going. Because as an actor, the audition never stops, never,” Ashford said.

In 2015, Ashford won a Tony Award for her role alongside James Earl Jones in “You Can’t Take It With You.” She said the experience was “totally overwhelming and a dream come true.”

“It’s on my bookshelf mantel right now with a unicorn next to it because it was magical. It’s like a unicorn, I can’t believe it happened,” she said.

But this time around, producers decided not to make “Sunday in the Park’s” limited run eligible for Tony contention.

“There’s a line in the show that sums it all up perfectly and beautifully. We talk about the art of making art, and this is truly the art of making art. It’s what it’s about. It’s about nothing more and nothing less,” Ashford said.