BOTTOM: BOBBY STEGGERT AS TOULOUSE-LAUTREC IN "MY PARIS",
PHOTO BY EMMA MEAD
A mystique of vivid colors swirls around the aura of artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Get ready to kick up your heels and swing your ruffled skirts as the can-can dazzles your senses. It’s Paris at its most gay and festive, a celebration of the arts when the princes of the painting world were prominent and passionate. During these slightly decadent and unruly festivities, one personage emerges from the provocative milieux: Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, an impressionist of well deserved renown.
Born in the mountains of Albi, France in 1864, this intriguing artist, who had a painting of a young laundress sell at auction a decade ago for a record $22.4 million, will be the subject of a new musical “My Paris” at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, also known as the Little Goodspeed. From Thursday, July 23 to Sunday, August 16. with book by Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Alfred Uhry, English lyrics and musical adaptation by triple Tony-winner Jason Robert Brown, music and lyrics by legendary French performer Charles Aznavour and direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall, “My Paris” is sure to be magnifique!
As a young boy, Toulouse-Lautrec (Bobby Steggert)was plagued with health problems that affected the bones in his legs and caused them to be child-sized even as an adult. His talents in art were a source of great comfort and he became a skilled Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator and lithographer. The technicolor world of Le Moulin Rouge, in the Montmartre section of the city, was an exciting, bohemian lifestyle that attracted him, as well as did his comrades like Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne.
Immersed in this evocative world, he painted and illustrated posters of the unique characters who peopled his gaudy and exotic world, from prostitutes to philosophers, singers to sinners, dancers to debutants. While his career spanned only two decades, he was prolific in his production of over 700 canvases, almost 300 watercolors, over 350 prints and posters and over 5000 drawings. Alcoholism was a factor in his early death.
According to Donna English, an actress who is appearing in “My Paris” as Maman, his mother Adele, "the process of bringing this formidable personage to life on the Norma Terris stage is a fascinating one. We are telling the major highlights of his life in a 90 minute one act musical. I play his mother who has a complicated relationship with her only living son. When Henri goes to Paris at 19, I go too and try to protect him.”
Henri’s parents were first cousins and that intermarriage, a ploy to keep land in the family, may have caused his genetic bone problems, ones that gave him great pain. His legs kept breaking and stopped growing by his age 11. While his family was wealthy and French royalty, doctors were unable to elevate his distress. His father Papa, Alphonse, (John Glover) was an active and viral man, and could not understand the limitations of his son and heir.
According to Ms. English, Maman “prayed for miracles and never left his side.” Once in Paris, however, he was swept into a new life, an “artsy world of thieves and prostitutes,” and Maman lost her control. Even though he dined with her every evening, she was unable to “pull him back from his shocking new night life.”
Despite his new drinking buddies, Henri experienced romance with Suzanne (Mara Davi),one of his models and an artist herself. In “My Paris,” audiences will gain a sense of this complex man who escaped home life to “fulfill himself as a human being and discover who he was. It is an intriguing story seen through his own eyes in memories of that time.”
While Henri died at 36,after having achieved success in his lifetime, Maman lived until 1930, actively protecting his artwork and creating a Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in his hometown of Albi.For tickets ($45 and up), call 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are at 33 North Main Street, Chester on Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Come discover the rich and fragrant flavor of Paris and the frantic gaiety of its colorful canvases, with just a tinge of a soul of sadness.