The Whirlwind Life of a Subversive Art Deco Icon in ‘Lempicka’ at La Jolla Playhouse

Cast of
The forged of “Lempicka” at La Jolla Playhouse.
Image by Matthew Murphy

She lived a wild tempestuous, roller coaster lifestyle. From time to time rich, in some cases very poor. The two renowned and overlooked. An Artwork Deco artist, iconoclast and provocateur, a tastemaker and groundbreaker, the toast of Paris, New York and Hollywood, who died in obscurity in Mexico, her ashes, at her request, forged into the live volcano Popocatépetl.

And now, 42 several years after her dying, she rises again, phoenix-like, with a new musical bearing her title, and her paintings fetching tens of hundreds of thousands at substantial-close auction homes.

She was Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980), born Tamara Rosalia Gurwik-Górska in Warsaw Poland, to a wealthy Jewish lawyer and a Russian socialite.

She achieved her aristocratic Polish-law firm spouse, Tadeusz Lempicki in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and married him  a 12 months later, when she was 18.

In 1917, when he was arrested by the key police, she created the greatest sacrifice to get him out. They escaped the Russian Revolution and finished up as refugees in Paris. In 1939, as the Nazi invasion threatened, she as soon as once again, usually cognizant of her Jewish heritage, feared for her everyday living and escaped to the United States.

Again and once again, she had to re-invent herself. “There’s a selected independence in shedding all the things,” she claims. “Forget what came in advance of.”  “The century’s various, so why shouldn’t I be?”

All of this (and much a lot more) helps make its way into the new Broadway-bound musical, “Lempicka,” acquiring its West coastline premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse.

An earlier edition of the piece premiered in 2018 at the Williamstown Theatre Pageant in Massachusetts. That present was scheduled for a 2020 debut at the Playhouse, but Covid forced a change of programs.

So, in this article we are, with a a lot-revised incarnation of “Lempicka,” which however it was conceived by playwright/lyricist Carson Kreitzer close to 2010, right before she satisfied composer and co-librettist Matt Gould, would seem closely linked to Ellis Avery’s 2012 historic novel, “The Previous Nude.” The ebook, set mainly in 1927 Paris, is narrated by the younger 17 12 months-aged runaway, Rafaela Fano, who was Lempicka’s lover and muse.

Tony Award-profitable director Rachel Chavkin, whose wonderfully stylized perform was past viewed regionally in “The Royale” in 2016 at The Outdated Globe, and the recent touring generation of “Hadestown,” has been connected to the job given that 2014.

Lempicka (Eden Espinosa, with powerhouse vocals, specially in her deep, prosperous, alto vary) was a maverick, a radical. Not the most devoted of wives or mothers, she led a flagrantly hedonistic existence, hobnobbing with high rollers and engaging in many affairs, with the two males and women.

She begun portray critically in Paris, to support the relatives when her husband could not seem to be to adapt (“What is a gentleman without having a country?” he laments). Her second husband was the Baron Raoul Kuffner (area stalwart Victor E. Chan), a marriage that gave her the moniker “The Baroness with a Brush.”

Although this musical offers a tough define of the arc of her eventful everyday living, it focuses particularly on the energy and delirium that was Jazz Age Paris in the 1920s, and the sexual empowerment of women of all ages that birthed.

We see Rafaela as a sometime prostitute and cabaret singer (outstanding Amber Iman, who delivers a tranquil grandeur to the frenetic piece, with her sultry existence and gorgeous voice. From July 12-24 Ximone Rose will consider over the purpose). As Lempicka’s muse, lover and obsession, Rafaela is resented by Lempicka’s spouse (Andrew Samonsky) and daughter Kizette (Jordan Tyson).

We hear a little bit about Lempicka’s artwork (“Line, color, type, shadow and light-weight,” reminiscent of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine 1985 musical, “Sunday in the Park with George”). She looks at a person and sees shade: “cobalt, Prussian blue, cerulean, sapphire… crimson, scarlet, vermilion, rose madder.” But we don’t see a lot of her artwork (rights challenges?).

We satisfy Lempicka’s teacher/harshest critic/antagonist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti  (George Abud), who tells her “We have to disturb, disrupt the earth.” The serious Marinetti was founder of the Futurist movement, which decried the previous and celebrated the modern-day, mechanical earth. (He was also co-writer of the Fascist Manifesto). He turns into a Mussolini-loving black-shirt monster, reminding Lempicka about Hitler’s notion of “degenerate art” — “Jews and queers. You will be erased. The long run is now and it is mine.” In the musical, he also shares Rafaela, a great deal to Lempicka’s chagrin.

When she sees the starched, uniformed Marinetti, Lempicka is aware of the bash is in excess of and she has to leave Paris, where by she’d introduced Rafaela to a concealed speakeasy-like bar/cabaret, Le Monocle, whose motto is “Liberté, ‘Egalité, Lesbianité.” The (infamous) place is operate by singer Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson) with whom Lempicka also experienced an affair, although not in this show.

We see how the artist struggles for acceptance in a man’s world we briefly see her melancholy and attempted suicide.

But we don’t at any time genuinely get inside her head, or get a perception of what she definitely thinks and feels. We’re as well caught up in the turbulence of the time and the manufacturing.

Chavkin is known for her multisensory sensibility, but she’s genuinely outdone herself this time, thanks to her style team and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly.

The intense focus on revolution, modify and the long term are represented in the angular lines and revolving established (Riccardo Hernandez), neon and flashing lights (Bradley King) and at any time-switching projections (Peter Negrini), each archival and creative. It is a phantasmagoria of movement a lot more than art.

Even the sensuality is far more hinted at than shown. We see more Artwork Deco in the wonderful costumes (Anita Yavich) and manufacturing structure than in Lempicka’s do the job — though the icy cubist/neoclassical blend of her famous self-portrait, “Tamara in a Green Bugatti,” from 1929) dominates the established just before the proceedings commence.

The score, excellently played by a 10-piece orchestra underneath the baton of Charity Wicks, echoes the overall esthetic: relentlessly high electrical power, higher-volume, hugely belted (all that often building it hard to discern the lyrics). The metallic, rock-infused new music is insistent and unremitting, only mitigated by Rafaela’s bluesy, scatting moments of welcome quiet (“Stillness,” “The Most Beautiful Bracelet”).

There are some gorgeous stage pics, and anthemic display-stoppers (“Love is for Fools,” “Woman Is”).

But with virtually a few hours at a frenzied, feverish tempo, the display could use extra revising, condensing — and heart. And far a lot more depth of character. Proper now, the piece has the chilly, tough floor of her paintings. Perhaps which is intentional, but it retains us at an psychological take away.

This is a whirlwind tour of a subversive life, but it desires to breathe a lot more, and go deeper within this pushed non-conformist, a serial survivor who was hellbent on carrying out items her way, currently being noticed and being remembered.

Her well known collectors consist of Madonna, Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand. It’s possible now, you’ll recall her, far too. 

  • Lempicka: A New Musical,” a West coast premiere, operates at the La Jolla Playhouse (Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Travel) by means of July 24
  • Performances: Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • Tickets ($25-$95) can be acquired at 858-550-1010 or
  • Jogging time: 2 hrs. 45 min.
  • Be aware: When construction continues, there are shuttles from the distanced parking good deal.
  • COVID plan: Masks are required indoors

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Affiliation, is a long-time San Diego arts author and an Emmy Award-successful theater critic. An archive of her previews and testimonials can be observed at