Long Wharf Theatre
“My Paris,” the new musical about Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec currently running at Long Wharf Theatre, is a grand and extremely pleasurable evening of theatre. Written by Charles Aznavour (music and lyrics), Alfred Uhry (book) and Jason Robert Brown (English lyric adaptation and musical adaptation), “My Paris” manages to transform the stage into a Gallic and sumptuous vision of France in the 1880s and 1890s. Starring the spectacular Bobby Steggert as Toulouse-Lautrec, “My Paris” is filled with luscious melodies and lavish dances, courtesy of director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall. “My Paris” also features a splendid supporting cast and the whole show seems to pass by like a lovely dream. This musical at Long Wharf Theatre is truly memorable and is most highly recommended.
One of the strongest assets of “My Paris” is the rich, melodic music by Charles Aznavour, which is outfitted with literate, concise English lyrics, fashioned by Jason Robert Brown. This score is played by a festive onstage band, perfectly conducted by David Gardos, and sung by a uniformly rich-voiced cast. Indeed, “My Paris” is certainly a treat for the ears, as well as the eyes. The curtain is up as the audience takes their seats and one can immediately see the terrific, multi-leveled set, beautifully designed by Derek McLane. Paul Tazewell also deserves cheers for his gorgeous costumes and Donald Holder is responsible for the imaginative lighting design, with a strong assist from projection designer Olivia Sebesky.
Of course, considering that “My Paris” focuses on the life of Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, this show would never work without a wonderful actor in this part. This musical is extremely lucky to have Bobby Steggert playing this role. Walking with a limp and a cane, this actor manages to appear much smaller than he actually is. Part of this is because the show almost always has Steggert one level lower than the rest of the cast, as well as providing him with miniature chairs to sit on when he paints. As soon as this actor appears, wearing a bowler hat and sporting a beard, as well as a French accent, the illusion is complete.
Still, Bobby Steggert’s portrayal is much more than just looking and sounding appropriate for this part: he also imbues Toulouse-Lautrec with a good deal of heart and sensitivity, and also a measure of pain. From his splendidly sung opening number, “Paris!” to the closing “The Windmill Turns,” this actor proves to be just about perfect.
Fortunately, Steggert also has a hearty supporting cast, with notable work by Andrew Mueller, Josh Grisetti, and John Riddle as his artist friends, who are determined to get Toulouse-Lautrec to really live. Pointedly, their big number in the first act is called “We Drink!” Also standing out are Tom Hewitt, as Toulouse-Lautrec’s forthright and ultimately cruel Papa, and Donna English lends her strong voice and authoritative stature to the character of Maman. The entire cast proves to be quite wonderful and director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall has staged “My Paris” with rowdy, sprawling dances, as well as fantasy sequences, featuring the sinuous Erica Sweany as The Green Fairy.
Still, in “My Paris,” there is another woman who rules Toulouse-Lautrec’s life. The character of Suzanne Valadon is ideally performed by the beautiful Mara Davi, who begins the show as one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s models, but soon begins to mean a great deal more to him. Without giving away too much, her final number, “What I Meant to Say,” is one of those songs that can almost tear you apart.
Indeed, as Bobby Steggert is seen listening to this song being sung to him, one can almost glimpse Toulouse-Lautrec’s heart breaking, and this actor is able to convey this without the aid of either a line or a lyric. Instead, it is simply written across his face. This is acting of a very high-caliber and Bobby Steggert’s performance is filled with similarly stunning moments throughout.
This is not to say, though, that “My Paris” lacks entertainment value and a good deal of fun, as well. Kathleen Marshall has decked out the show with a stellar company of actors, full-stage dance numbers, and a good-looking production. Nonetheless, it is Bobby Steggert as Toulouse-Lautrec who truly adds that bit of magic to “My Paris” that it would otherwise lack. By all means, go to see “My Paris” at Long Wharf Theatre for the joy of it, but don’t be surprised if Steggert’s moving performance doesn’t linger with you long after the show has ended.
“My Paris” continues performances through May 29, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.