Musical theater can take many forms, but a biographical story can often prove successful, depending on the subject. Shows like Evita, Gypsy, and Six have all gained incredible success and recognition for telling the stories of real people. However, an incredibly successful musical biography about an artist is not something that we’ve gotten. Perhaps the closest we’ve seen is Sunday in the Park with George, which looks at Georges Seurat and his creation of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Because it’s by Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George is known among theater nerds but might not be an instantly recognizable household name. But next year, we might get a new, successful musical all about an artist.
Lempicka is a new show opening on Broadway in 2024 that tells the story of Tamara de Lempicka, the Polish artist who spent the twentieth century bouncing around the world, painting as she went. Tamara de Lempicka was born in Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. She was nineteen years old when the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917. When the secret revolutionary police briefly arrested her husband Tadeusz, the couple escaped Russia for Paris. There, she decided to become a painter, finishing her artistic studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse. Soon, she became one of the most influential painters of the 1920s, particularly within the Art Deco style. One of her most famous works during this time is one of her self-portraits, with her in the front seat of a green Bugatti sports car. Her work was sleek and colorful, often showing women in a way never before seen in the arts. Her paintings reflected the changing gender roles of interwar society, as well as shifts in beauty standards. After the outbreak of the Second World War, she fled to the United States, later moving to Mexico in her last years.
Lempicka’s life has made its way to the stage before, most recently in 1987 as a dramatic play. However, the musical Lempicka has its origins at Yale University in 2011. The members of the Yale Repertory Theater commissioned the work, undergoing several versions before its debut at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2018. Finding success there, it was later put on at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. In both productions, the title role was played by the esteemed Broadway actress Eden Espinosa, best known for her work on Wicked but also has experience performing in Evita, In the Heights, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Rent. Espinoza will be reprising her role on Broadway. The musical is set to be directed by Rachel Chavkin, best known for Hadestown.
Upon seeing the show, Lempicka’s great-granddaughter Marisa, who is also the president of the artist’s estate, said, “I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes”. Lempicka’s first performance will take place at the Longacre Theater on March 19, 2024.