Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Lempicka (Longacre Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

I must confess I don’t know enough about Polish Art Deco artist Tamara de Lemprica to parse the fiction from the facts of the “pop-infused” bio-musical which has just opened on Broadway after tryouts at Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse. But it’s pretty clear there are heaps and heaps of dramatic license at work. 

In any case, the superficial result is, at best, somewhat akin to the short-lived “Diana: The Musical.” Which is not to say that, like that unfortunate retread of the short life of the Princess of Wales, there isn’t some decent talent on stage and behind the scenes.

As with “Diana,” for instance, the new show’s star, Eden Espinosa delivers a creditable performance, at least within the framework of the script’s broad strokes, morphing from crusty old lady in the opening scene to young woman caught up in the upheaval of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and then moving forward. She delivers dramatically and musically, revealing only occasional strain at the top of her register. 

The show’s book -- by creator Carson Kreitzer and composer Matt Gould --  relates how Lempicka rescues her upper crust husband Tadeusz Lempicki (Andrew Samonsky) from prison during the Revolution by bribing his captors with jewelry and then, when that fails, her virtue. They flee to Paris where she refines her talent for painting, under the tutelage of Futurist Movement founder Emilio Marinettii (a manic George Abud), and the patronage of a Baron (Nathaniel Stampley) and his wife (Beth Leavel), gaining fames for her celebrity portraiture and daring nudes. 

She soon makes the acquaintance of singer Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson), and through her, falls under the spell of the prostitute Rafaela (a fictitious composite character played by the charismatic Amber Iman) with whom she commences an affair. Even before they eventually meet, both Tadeusz and Rafaela are aware of each other, but they settle into a comfortable, don't ask, don’t tell, triangular arrangement. 

Lempicka’s precocious daughter Kizette (Zoe Glick), a frequent model for her mother’s portraits, but otherwise neglected, is written and played like a cross between Baby June from “Gypsy” and Patty McCormack in “The Bad Seed.” And curiously, she seems to remain a child over the years.

Against the backdrop of ominous changing times and the impending rise of Fascism, Lempicka becomes emblematic of “the New Woman.” This also includes her enthusiastic patronage of an elaborate lesbian bar run by Suzy. Yet, all of these freedoms are soon to be curtailed by a more intolerant regime, with the now sinister Marinetti its chief proponent here.

Gould’s music makes no attempt at a period sound. It’s mostly hard-driving pop/rock bombast with a few soft ballads in the mix. I did like Iman’s jazzy “Stay,” but otherwise the score is predictably generic. Musicians are openly positioned in the pretty Longacre boxes, but the overall sound palette is a heavily miked artificiality. (Under the helm of Music Supervisor Remy Kurs, Charity Wicks leads the orchestra.) 

Leavel’s eleven o’clock number, as the Baroness confesses she is dying, earns applause, but vocally, she has little else to do. Samonsky’s attractive vocals are a pleasure throughout.

Director Rachel Chavkin does the best she can with the property but “Lempicka” is several notches below her previous triumphs, “Hadestown” and “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” Raja Feather Kelly’s choreography is more Studio 54 than pre-Occupation Paris, but at least it keeps things lively. 

Riccardo Hernández's constantly shifting Eiffel Tower/Art Deco scenic design, augmented by Peter Nigrini’s newsreel footage projection design and Bradley King’s lighting provide visual interest.  Paloma Young’s costumes and Leah Loukas’ hair & wig design conjure the appropriate period look. 

Just based on the subject matter alone, the relatively little-known Lempicka would seem to be a longshot for Broadway success, and yet I should report that the audience at my Saturday night performance was highly enthusiastic throughout. Whether they were cheering the performances or the various triumphs of the show’s heroine -- or both -- I was at a loss to discern.

(Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street; LempickaMusical.com)

Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman: Eden Espinosa

Print this post


Post a Comment