Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The unfortunate Lautrec suffered from broken legs that did not heal while young and he never really recovered physical health. He did, however, continue with his art during the late nineteenth century in Paris. Every so often, this production hints at the pizzazz of this era. Paul Tazewell's period dresses for the women lend bright flavor to the proceedings. During several numbers, the costumes are flashed about. These are times when Marshall (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Anything Goes) is able to freely create. Meanwhile, Lautrec and his model Suzanne Valadon (Mara Davi) develop a relationship, one which is not easily defined. Suzanne, too, aspires to paint and it seems she is most taken with self-portraiture. She might also be a woman of the streets. The Valadon-Lautrec "friendship" garners plenty of interest.
Lautrec lived only till his mid-thirties and My Paris opens a window upon his time. He could not stay away from the drink, absinthe. A woman, a Green Fairy (Erica Sweany), is elevated from time to time, evidently to symbolize the deleterious effects of alcohol upon Toulouse. He is a needy person in struggle, and Steggert's depiction is carefully and skillfully drawn. Actress Donna English plays Maman/Adele, Lautrec's mother. Tom Hewitt is cast as Papa/Alphonse, the father. Papa wishes that his son might have been, rather, a large, muscular man, a hunting companion. Instead, his offspring is weak. Hence, Papa is dismissive and derisive towards Toulouse.
Songs such as "Paris!," "We Drink," and "Vive La Vie" and others give a sense of the bohemian atmosphere in Montmartre. It was a time of cabarets and prolific nightlife. Lautrec is not fit for this but his fellow artists (played by actors Josh Grisetti, Andrew Mueller, and John Riddle) get more involved in that scene.
The beginning of the show is expository, not especially gripping, and one must be patient. The second act is richer and tighter while adding greater substance. Lautrec envisions himself as a man blessed with working, fluent limbs in "Bonjour, Suzanne." Solo renditions by Davi on "You Do It for You" and the plaintive "What I Meant to Say" are delivered with a knowing feel.
Steggert, on Broadway in Ragtime, Big Fish, and Mothers and Sons, is exacting and thorough. He has one opportunity to imagine and otherwise is asked to portray the afflicted yet talented Lautrec. That he does. Davi (Dames at Sea, White Christmas and more on Broadway) is both caring and alluring as Suzanne. The disciplined Hewitt, with Broadway credits in shows such as Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Dracula, is a strong actor with commanding presence.
Derek McLane's tiered set brings the audience directly to a nightclub. David Gardos (who plays accordion and piano) and his musicians are a huge asset. The orchestrations by David Chase and Gardos's musical direction work to add depth to a biographical play. My Paris would do well with brighter splashes of cabaret and its atmosphere.
The Long Wharf performance space is not cavernous and this works well for this presentation, allowing Marshall to accentuate the skills of actors who are also pliable dancers. Aznavour, who has penned more than a thousand tunes, is in fine form with his contributions here and Jason Robert Brown's adaptations are excellent. It is left to Uhry to explicate. He does so directly. Thus, My Paris is filled with potential. It still seems to have room to evolve, to be explored further.
My Paris continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through May 29th, 2016. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282.