BWW Review: PEAU D'ÂNE at Marigny
After five years of renovations, The Marigny Theater reopens in style, with an enchanted but not always so enchanting musical adaptation of Jacques Demy's popular film Donkeyskin (Peau d'Âne), best remembered for the songs of legendary film composer Michel Legrand.
One day, a rich and powerful king loses his beloved wife after she makes him promise to remarry, but with a woman even more beautiful than her. While looking for one, he falls in love with his own daughter. The princess, advised by her fairy godmother, demands impossible gifts to escape the proposal. She asks him for three dresses, one woven out of time, the second of moonlight and the last sunlight. Finally, she insists on having the skin of a magical donkey which, thanks to its golden excrement, has made the kingdom prosperous. The king surprisingly delivers, and so to escape marriage, the princess has to flee from the palace, dressed in the donkey skin. She will live poorly, far from the kingdom, before meeting a young prince from another kingdom.
Based on a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, Donkeyskin has been redone many times in many forms (ballet, film, opera, novel, and comic strip book). The excellent and moving Marie Oppert, again walking in the footsteps of Catherine Deneuve as she did for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at Châtelet, has been perfectly cast as the princess, fittingly younger than Deneuve was in 70s movie.
The inevitable Emma Kate Nelson, last seen at Châtelet as Lina Lamonte in Singin' in the Rain and as Anytime Annie in 42nd Street, is perfectly cast as the silly Queen of the Lilacs. Mathieu Spinosi lacks a bit of charisma as the Prince of the Red Kingdom. But Michaël Denard, as the King of the Blue Kingdom, and Marie-Agnès Gillot, as Queen of the Red Kingdom, both ex-stars from the world of ballet are competent actors. But who needed such a wooden narrator as he famous French TV news anchor Claire Chazal, so ill at ease on stage, belonging rather on a TV screen!
Despite the show's initial slow place like the film's, we are eventually seduced by the small touches of modernity here and there. The female characters, including the Fairy Godmother and the Queen, provide a hint of humor, sometimes with the delicious effrontery, pointing out that only women can try on the Prince's ring, much to the chagrin of the Kingdom's young men.
Strangely, we get to see the opening scene of the first act through the curtains, but this doesn't prevent us from savoring the luminous scenery of a fantastical blue and green fantasy forest, deepened by a large background mirror. Credits to Daniel Bianco for the design.
The staging is minimalist. Chorus members rearrange props and let the audience guess the story's setting. The scant props, however, throw Pepa Ojanguren's extravagant sparkling costumes into high relief, making for a true fashion show. Thierry Boulanger did a good job as usual as musical director, but it would have been better to look for better material in the Michel Legrand catalogue, or ask him to write a few new songs in order to make the show into a full-fledged musical.
The musical numbers are few and far between, even if the main ones are very familiar to the audience (we must remember that Peau d'Ane was actually the most successful of the Jacques Demy's and Michel Legrand's film collaborations before the Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort). So, this puts this show into the faithful movie recreation category instead of the original musical one, but being a surefire popular success, it is a fitting choice to pave the way for the forthcoming productions of Paris's new premier musical theater venue: Sondheim's Marry Me a Little, January 30th to February 24th in the studio, and Guys and Dolls, March 30th to March 27th, in the expert hands of director choreographer Stephen Mear.