Lempicka Review - Broadway musicalIn its nearly three-hour running time, the musical “Lempicka” passes through three nations, two wars and 58 years in the life of the real-life art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. But it opens in 1975 L.A, where the withered artist is bitter, alone and forgotten. “History’s a bitch,” she says with an implied shrug, “but so am I.”
It’s a clever way to start this visually ravishing musical about the imperfect and obsessive artist, which opened Saturday at the La Jolla Playhouse. Although bombastically loud in spots, the musical by bookwriter Carson Kreitzer and composer Matt Gould is also studded with tender and gorgeous solo songs that define and illuminate the characters.
Director Rachel Chavkin and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly together bring a grand sweep, muscularity and momentum to the large-scale show. But as fast-changing wars and cultural change swirl around Lempicka, she becomes increasingly frozen, caught up in the moments of a love affair with her Parisian muse, Rafaela, and her uncompromising, single-minded desire to paint “what women can be,” even as her sensuous, canvas-crowding style slips out of fashion.
Eden Espinosa delivers a fierce and formidable acting and vocal performance as the self-absorbed Lempicka. While Espinosa delivers repeatedly and astonishingly on the big, belting high notes that fans adore, she’s also achingly tender in other songs, like the lyrically lovely “Woman Is,” about the joy of painting women’s bodies. Also excellent is Amber Iman as the club singer-prostitute Rafaela. Her liquid amber voice has a fluidity in the scatty “L’Amour Fou” and a resonating richness in the songs of longing “Stillness” and “What She Sees.” George Abud is another ideal hand-in-glove fit for the role of Italian pro-fascist modernist Filippo Marinetti. His edgy performance of the high-flying song “Perfection” is one of those moments in a show where thoughts of future Tony nominations dance in the head — for him, as well as for Espinosa and Iman.
Andrew Samonsky seethes with disappointment as Lempicka’s husband, Tadeusz, the exiled aristocrat who can’t move past his fury over the Russian Revolution or what his wife may have done to obtain their travel papers to France. As Parisian lesbian nightclub owner Suzy Solidor, Natalie Joy Johnson leads the vibrant song-and-dance scene “Women.” And Jacquelyn Ritz gives a heartbreaking performance as a dying Baroness, whose husband Lempicka would marry after she died.
The show’s physical production (art deco scenery by Riccardo Hernandez, neonlike lighting by Bradley King, projections by Peter Nigrini and costumes by Anita Yavich) is dazzling. The ever-spinning turntable stage features fast-shifting angled scenery walls that serve to highlight the most elaborate projection design I’ve ever seen, featuring old Nazi and Bolshevik photos and newsreels, images of 1920s Paris and some of Lempicka’s sensuous paintings and sketches.
The musical’s first act is the strongest. It’s more interesting seeing Lempicka become the artist in Act 1 than it is watching her sketch, romance and callously neglect her child Kizette (Jordan Tyson) in the long, but musically rich, Act 2. In life, Lempicka may not have been an easy person to love, but on the musical stage, she’s at least easier to understand and appreciate.
Last Update:November, 20th 2023