Lautrec : The Musical

Wednesday, 12 April, 2000

It is set in 1890's Paris and traces the life of diminutive impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse Lautrec whose work captured the decadent and colourful age in which he lived. Henri's legs were crippled from a birth defect and failed to heal or grow - as an adult he was only 4½ feet tall. He died at the age of 36 in 1901. This musical bio tells the story of this famous painter, from how he rejected his aristocratic background to preferring the company of whores, dissolutes and other members of the Parisian seedy society. He falls in love with Suzanne, who used to be a prostitute, but he becomes insecure and jealous and finally an alcoholic and ends up in an asylum. His behaviour causes his parents problems as they endeavour to protect the family name.

The character of Henri is portrayed as a loving cheerful person who justifies everything by painting what he calls the truth. He does not follow the traditional ways in life or art.

This musical is a little lightweight in that the script is patchy and certainly does not explore the characters enough, but I think it manages to work, nether the less. To explore the characters deeper would probably add more time to this two and half-hour musical resulting in a show far too long. Instead we are provided with brief outlines of each character which adds to the pace of the show.

The songs are not great, but they are pleasant, warm and jolly, and I believe very much in tone with the story. The song that stands out for me is "Look Into My Eyes", which is sung near the end of the show when Suzanne is asking Henri's mum to sign the release form to let Henri out of the asylum, a very touching moment and a very touching song!

The whole cast in this show is terrific with many splendid performances. Pint size Sevan Stephen is a very convincing Henri, although his beard makes him look a little lewd! Sevan has a strong voice, and so too does the excellent Hannah Waddingham, as Suzanne, who I think has a big future ahead of her! There is also an impressive performance from Jill Martin as Adele, Henri's mother.

The popular press are not impressed with the show… THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Lautrec's a musical that makes a song and dance about nothing." THE FINANCIAL TIMES says," It is a bizarre event: lavishly mounted, passionately performed and yet peculiarly empty." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "If the show staggers on for more than a few months I'll mange mon chapeau." THE INDEPANDANT says, "The writer Shaun McKenna's approach to drama is to write snapshot scenes with all the subtlety of a cartoon. People fall in love but we never see why or how." THE GUARDIAN says, "Only Robert Jones's imaginative set and costume designs truly distinguish themselves. To spare everyone further suffering, Lautrec should be recast with Ronnie Corbett and Denise van Outen as the leads, the thing played as farce. It's halfway there already." TIME OUT says, "Pretty much every salient detail of illustrious composer Charles Aznavour's aesthetically-challenged portrait of the artist as a fun-loving but emotional fragile midget fails to satisfy."

"Lautrec" is a lavish musical that is both charming and delightful, and gives you a warm feeling. It will probably appeal to an older audience as a younger audience may find it a little middle-of-the-road.

(Darren Dalglish)

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