BWW Review: MY PARIS at Long Warf Theatre

By Melinda Zupaniotis

There's a bone disease called "pycnodysostosis", but it's more commonly known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome. It means that the density of one's bones is irregular, and usually results in an abnormal growth of digits or appendages. In the case of the actual Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, it meant that his legs were shorter than normal, and his general stature was fragile.

In the ultra-charming, original musical, MY PARIS, currently at Long Warf Theatre, Mr. Toulouse-Lautrec, himself, referred to his disease as one that makes him "taller when he sits than when he stands," and explains his artistic perspective as unique since he "is always looking up."

But wait. Stop. Who is Toulouse-Lautrec? While you may not know the name, you have certainly seen his iconic artwork, brilliantly displayed throughout this captivating show via a wonderful use of projections onto the versatile, one-piece set designed by Derek McLane. (SideNote: the multi-levels used to accent Henri's vertical challenge is genius!)

I must admit, I am not a big fan of projection used in set design, and while I did find the Long Warf's usage in Our Town and Picasso at the Lapin Agile functional, I typically remain steadfast in my evaluation that most theatre companies' reliance on projection-as-set design tends to be pedestrian and simple evidence that they are scared of actually building a set. However, if there was ever a use of projection as a set enhancement, this show captured that, and many accolades should be given to Olivia Sebesky for her thoughtful and varied design. Some of her accents were subtle, but they encapsulated the visuals needed in order to truly represent this artist's life.

Another technical aspect of this show that is usually taken for granted is that of Leah Loukas' hair and wig design. In a show where a few people play many different roles, her creations were magical. Whether it be quick changes or hidden microphones, she stepped up and helped each actor differentiate their character. Special note taken of Nikka Graff Lanzarone. I still can't figure out how she changed so quickly!

Next, I will touch on the costumes...the lush, luscious, gorgeous, craveable costumes designed by Paul Tazewell. Mr. Tazewell outdid himself, with the colors and the layers, not only living up to the designs given in Mr. Toulouse-Lautrec's work, but also living up to the audience's imaginations of what couture of the time was, including the present-day assumption of what a can-can dancer looked like. Gorgeous colors, incredible lines, fabulous details, and envious undergarments (or not!), engross the audience in each and every scene.

Direction by Tony-winner, Kathleen Marshall, is fantastic, and given the small playing space due to the clever set, her and David Eggers' choreography is amazing, with the nimble actors navigating the stage's nooks and crannies - and footlights - with ease. The Can-Can scene is particularly memorable, as is the torturingly gorgeous dance of the Green Fairy.

One of the hardest technical aspects of a musical is sound, yet Brian Ronan's sound design was flawless. Yes, LWT has a very high-end system and, as a professional company, it should be expected that things sound well, but in my experience, that is not always the case at all theatres. In this instance, however, rest assured that all voices - even those not from real people - are heard perfectly, and the singing mixes with the music to create a sound to celebrate!

The performances seem almost secondary - but only because they are all seamlessly spectacular...from the ensemble to the principles, they are equally stellar. To add to it, I saw the show at a 3pm matinee on a Saturday, where the cast could have "phoned it in," but not one performer did - perhaps in appreciation for the full-house...or simply because they are all seasoned professionals.

Mara Davi plays Suzanne. She is a "ridiculous treasure." I saw her after the show and told her I would call her that in my review, so there you are, Mara - you ARE a "ridiculous treasure." She's stunningly beautiful with a voice from heaven, able to encompass the many different aspects of her seemingly shallow character with a depth that I'm sure Alfred Uhry hoped for when he wrote the Book. She originated the role at Goodspeed in its first incarnation, so while she's had some practice at it, it read as spontaneous and new to this seasoned audience member.

Extra kudos need to be given to Tom Hewitt and Donna English as Papa and Maman...strong voices with definitive choices. Plus the entire ensemble needs some love because without them, this story cannot be told. Whether it be the strong dancers, the Henri entourage, or the puppeteering duo, this hard-working, multi-racial cast kept the story moving and the pace flowing. The voices were diverse, the imagery they created was beautiful, and it was clear that there was no singular star of this ensemble-driven show.

But if there was to be a star, it would have to be Bobby Steggert. He plays Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to perfection. He, like Ms. Davi, originated the role, but his casting was based on much more than just his shorter stature. His voice is strong, his dialect is committed, his character is imprinted, and he conjured a standing ovation at the performance that I attended. He has already earned many nominations for his other works, but his presence on the Long Warf stage is a sight to see.

Lastly, I need to comment on the amazing band. This show is nothing without the glorious music of the great Charles Aznavour, and the four-piece, on-stage band did Mr. Aznavour full-credit. David Gardos is the charming music director/conductor who also happens to play piano and accordion, assuring the authenticity of a real Parisian score. Sean Rubin played stand-up bass magnificently and Andrew Smith expertly bowed his violin, while Jeffrey Carlson toggled between guitar and mandolin. Mr. Aznavour himself makes a "vocal" appearance in the opening announcement.

In conclusion, I will say that I brought my Mother to the show. She is a huge fan of Charles Aznavour, an admirer of Paris and its art, and an outspoken critic of everything (especially of me!). She LOVED the show. To those who understand that, that might mean EVERYTHING.

You still have two weeks to see the show before it ends of May 29th, so GO. It's a fantastic escape from the norm. Without paying Hamilton prices or dealing with Hamilton pretension, this historic show will make you smile, tap your feet, and leave you satisfied as you exit the theatre after 2:05 (including intermission).
Don't miss it. It's lovely.

So - - - Who's booking a trip to Paris with me?
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From This Author Melinda Zupaniotis

Melinda Zupanitois is a native of Fairfield County, CT and a staunch advocate of local theatre. After earning her BFA in Acting from the University (read more...)