Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The title character was born in Poland and had a Jewish father. Tamara de Lempicka (amazing Eden Espinosa) marries handsome Tadeusz Lempicki (debonair Andrew Samonsky) and the pair escape to Paris. The opening number of this epic show is exciting. A short time later, "Starting Over" features Espinosa and Samonsky in a lilting and moving duet. The production's exceptional strengths center upon the songs. One anticipates and receives a wide array of satisfying numbers.
The WTF presentation (whether this be due to short rehearsal time or artistic choice) is minimalist in look and style. This is sensationally effective. During the period of revolution, Bradley King's lighting bathes the entire stage in a red hue. When the action shifts to Paris between the two world wars, set designer Riccardo Hernandez provides a partial arch of the Eiffel Tower. Throughout, easels do not hold literal paintings. Instead, actors mime the motions, with brushes, of those who create art.
Tamara was an art deco painter and she discovers joy and compatibility in France with cafe life and the ardent creative scene. Her muse is Rafaela (Carmen Cusack), a Bohemian woman. The relationship between the two women is instantly heated with passion. Tamara has simply asked Rafaela (who has been a prostitute), "Do you model?" The two women collaborate on the beautifully indicative song, "Stillness." Meanwhile, Tamara's husband Tadeusz labors quietly in a bank. Lempicka provides Eden Espinosa with sequences to lift her voice and sing to and through the rafters. Just before intermission, she is both powerful and sensuous with her rendition of "Woman Is."
Early during the second act, Tadeusz, suspecting his wife, tries to confront her. "You have other women, why shouldn't I?" is her response to him. Husband and wife sing "The New Woman." Later, Tadeusz and Rafaela meet, and these two combine voices in semi-sweet, quite effective harmony as they sing, "What She Sees."
Tamara is one to seize opportunity. Her time with Rafaela allows her to expand, to liberate, to experience anew. Yet, she feels for her husband. The play's love triangle becomes pivotal.
Ultimately, the specters of Hitler and growing fascism frighten Parisians. Tamara's husband, too, is becoming more independent, as journeys continue.
Carmen Cusack is vocally gifted and Andrew Samonsky has excellent range. Rachel Tucker plays a supporting but significant character, the Baroness, and gets more than a moment to soulfully sing.
Bringing all of this together, superbly, is director Rachel Chavkin, whom some know through her leadership of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Chavkin is an enabling director and the staging at Williamstown is wide open. This grants room for the actors to flourish and that they do. Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly maximizes dance opportunitiessome feature many or all of the 15-member cast while others are more subdued. Remy Kurs, music supervisor and vocal arranger, makes an important contribution. Montana Levi Blanco's wardrobe choices match time with atmosphere as the years spin forward in different locales.
Lempicka brings us music for the ages. Its heartbeat thrums with energy. The Williamstown Theatre Festival production is commendable for scenic choices which inspire and support the songs Kreitzer and Gould bring forward. Chavkin, at the helm, is wise not to be overbearing. It is as if she has channeled exactly what the creative musical team envisioned. Her work as director positively accounts for stimulating theater.
Lempicka, through August 1, 2018, on the main stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown MA. For tickets, call 413-458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org.