Marie Christine, which opened last night at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, announces itself as a tragic story of a Creole woman's all-consuming love for an ambitious sea captain-cum-politician. Set in the 1890's, it freely draws from elements of the legend of Medea, Voudon (or voodoo) rituals and practices, the social mores of New Orleans, and the reality of political corruption in Chicago. That these assorted bits and pieces can be brought together in a more or less cogent whole is a tribute to the talent and ingenuity of composer/author Michael John LaChiusa. That the resulting musical feels contrived and unfinished, a deeply flawed masterpiece, is disappointing beyond measure.
The overwhelming impression one takes away from the Beaumont Theatre is having seen a thrown-together rehearsal of a work in progress. There are moments of greatness and moments of genius on that stage. There are also far too many songs and scenes that seem to have been quickly sketched in - to be fleshed out and finely developed at a later date - desperately holding the production together.
Audra McDonald, as Marie Christine, gives the performance you expect from a three time Tony Award winner. The voice is in fine shape and the stage presence in full force, deployed in shrewd and prudent measures, and to good effect, in an effort to provide the emotionally engaging center both her role and this production require. So much so, in fact, that for the first time McDonald appears in danger of becoming a caricature of herself, though this may be a result of Graciela Daniele's weak direction.
Anthony Crivello, as the object of Marie Christine's love and obsession Dante Keyes, offers a respectable and at times absorbing performance in a role which has seemingly not been written to allow him anything more than the most superficial expressions of lust and love. In place of the needed authority, we are given guile and charm. Against McDonald's much more fully developed Marie Christine, it isn't enough.
Vivian Reed, as the breathtakingly beautiful and imposing spectre of Marie Christine's mother, makes the most of the ravishing "Ton Grandpere est le soleil" and comes closest to completely realizing her character in one of the best performances of the evening. But, Mary Testa, as the saloon keeper Magdalena, provides the most accessible performance, quickly and efficiently winning the audience over with her sly mix of vulgarity and vulnerability.
Janet Metz and Kim Huber, playing two different sets of daughters, though given little to do beyond backing up Mary Testa in the second act opening number, still manage to be noticed and singled out for praise. The always enjoyable Darius de Haas, as Marie Christine's brother, does what he can with what he is given, closing the first act and dying.
Graciela Daniele's choreography is better than her direction. The sets, by Christopher Barreca, and costumes, by Toni-Leslie James, are serviceable but curiously generic. The lighting, by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, is superb.
Marie Christine A New Musical Words and music by Michael John LaChiusa. Directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele. Sets by Christopher Barreca. Costumes by Toni-Leslie James. Lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Sound by Scott Stauffer. Starring Audra McDonald and Anthony Crivello. (Ms. McDonald will not appear at Wednesday and Saturday matinees, when the role of Marie Christine will be performed by Sherry Boone.)
Theatre: Vivian Beaumont Theatre (at Lincoln Center) 150 West 65th Street New York, NY 10023 (Between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Audience: Inappropriate for ages 13 and under.
Schedule: (Limited run through January 9.) Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM. Added performances Sunday 12/26 at 8 PM, Thursday 12/30 at 2 PM, Sunday 1/2 at 8 PM. No performances Sunday 11/28, Friday 12/3, Friday 12/24, Saturday 12/25 at 2 PM, and Saturday 1/1 at 2 PM.
Ticket prices: $75, $65, and $50. Wednesday Matinee $65, $55, and $40. New Year's Eve $100 and $75.
Tickets online: http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday: Noon to 6 PM.
Tickets by snail mail: Marie Christine, PO Box 998 Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998
Tickets by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org