Bob Goepfert Reviews "Lempicka" At Williamstown Theatre Festival

Aug 2, 2018

If you missed the musical “Lempicka,” at Williamstown Theatre Festival, rest assured you will most certainly have another chance to see the show.  This work will certainly be playing on Broadway in the near future.  It’s a big, bold, sprawling work that is filled with powerful music, brilliant staging, gorgeous costumes and performances that are exhaustingly perfect.

And it will get even better by the time the show does move to New York.  Actually, it has to get better or it won’t last on Broadway very long.  As marvelous as the experience of “Lempicka” is at Williamstown, it needs a lot of work before it is ready for a commercial run.   Too, the show is about such a controversial figure, there is no guarantee that a Broadway production will equal a Broadway hit.

As for current problems, it now runs almost three hours and is in desperate need of cutting.  The length includes so much information that the story dominates the presentation and you feel little emotional attachment to the characters on stage.  It is like watching a biography unfold, rather than sharing the story of a unique life. 

Lempicka was a famous painter during the first half of the 20th century.  She was married to a wealthy Russian aristocrat and was forced to flee Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution.  The couple settled in Paris with their infant daughter – bereft of wealth, power and connections.

To support the family, Lempicka took to selling her paintings.  She created bold art-deco styled images of gorgeous, aloof people that were dazzling in a way that suggested the dissatisfaction of those with wealth and power.  

She was not only a good portrait painter, she was a genius at self-promotion. Her life style reflected the themes in her art as she dominated the social scene and secured commissions from her well-to-do friends, but she never seemed happy or satisfied with her success. The musical focuses on her romance with her female model Rafaela, a free-spirited lower-class woman who lived only for the moment.   

Clearly the themes, the setting and the sexual tensions provide material rich for staging.

Indeed, director Rachel Chavkin stages the sweeping story brilliantly.  She has a vision that makes scenes erupt with energy and power.  Aided by the choreography and movement of Raja Feather Kelly, this is a visually splendid production.  Costumes by Montana Levi Blanco add a lush feel to a society that lived on the edge.

Performances are also wonderful. As the driven Lempicka, Eden Espinosa is simply brilliant. This is a career-defining role and Espinosa owns the character.   Her singing is awesome, her energy boundless, and her focus laser-sharp.   You might not embrace Lempicka, but you will know, understand and admire the woman.

As Rafaela, Carmen Cusack is the perfect foil for the driven Lempicka.  Cusack plays the loose woman with a certain innocence that is both charming and sexy. Her singing is wonderful and her stage presence disarming.

This is a fascinating musical that is filled with potential. The problems are many, but minor in the hands of such skilled, creative people.   "Lempicka" will have a life beyond the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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