Categories: Kristen Schweizer, SD Press Club Award winner, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Lempika: A Triad of Love, Beauty and Art Disrupted by War, Aging and Possession

June 30, 2022

Written by Kristen Schweizer

Amber Iman (on stage, center) and Eden Espinosa (far right) with the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s production of LEMPICKA; photo by Rich Soublet II

Like clockwork, La Jolla Playhouse is showing another new Broadway-bound musical. From Jersey Boys to Jesus Christ Superstar to the recent SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical, LJP is practiced in delivering a biography via song. This time, it’s the life of Tamara de Lempicka, an art deco artist born ahead of her time. The constantly spinning turntable staging of Lempicka: A New Musical (book, lyrics, and original concept from Carson Kreitzer; book and music by Matt Gould) echoes the decades of time covered in the sprawling story.

In summary, Lempicka (Eden Espinosa) rescues her husband (Andrew Samonsky) from prison during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, escapes with her family to Paris, parlays her painting skills and societal prowess into a 1920s artistic rise, meets a worse war – and a life-changing woman (Amber Inman) – then carries all this trauma and love into her final years. At a nearly three-hour run time, audiences can expect a lot of plot packed into soaring songbook. 

Within an eyebrow-raising love triangle, the triad of love, beauty, and art is disrupted by war, aging, and possession. These themes are repeated enough to require some editing before the curtain rises on Broadway; the stunning scenic design needs no tinkering. From Hamilton to Hadestown, turntables provide for dynamic movement on the stage but Lempicka‘s originality comes in pairing the “Lazy Susan” with sliding screens. The modern stagecraft is bordering on witchcraft; absolute magic. 

Eden Espinosa “Tamara de Lempicka” and George Abud as “Marinetti” in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of LEMPICKA; photo by Matthew Murphy.

Pioneering projections by Peter Nigrini firmly grounds every setting with both the history and the glamour of “ugly, beautiful” Paris. His images help audiences with the musical’s dizzying pace — including helpful location title cards — while the angular, shifting screens echo Lempicka’s art deco style.

While most characters parallel the aloof allure of Lempicka’s paintings, the show’s most memorable moment comes from the warm Baronness (Jacquelyn Ritz). Her heart-wrenching solo song stills the heart. The Baronness’ loyal love for her husband, Baron Kuffner (local gem Victor E. Chan) serves as a vivid juxtaposition against all other relationships in the show. 

Profound lines and necessary levity are delivered by Lempicka’s art teacher, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti; played by the delightful George Abud. Marinetti – founder of the Futurist movement – provides a fascinating arc from frustrated artist to militant fascist. His pop-infused “Perfection” is worth adding to your Broadway playlist.

The show is a long-lasting, yet speeding journey, matching Lempicka’s famous self-portrait.

Autoportrait (Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti)

©️ Tamara de Lempicka Estate, ARS 2022

See Lempicka: A New Musical (a West coast premiere) before it closes on July 24. Tickets run between $25-$95 and are available through the La Jolla Playhouse (Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive). 

Show notes: While surrounding construction continues, free shuttles run from the distanced parking structure; arrive early to provide time to ride or walk. Masks are required indoors regardless of vaccination status.

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