There's a new Camille in town and she's not the same consumptive created by Greta Garbo in the famous 1937 film. Composer Henry Kreiger and lyricist Bill Russell have reimagined the self-sacrificing courtesan as Caleigh, 1980's number one party girl, in the world premiere musical Kept, playing April 10-May at TheatreWorks' Mountain View Center for the Arts in Mountain View, California. Scott Schwartz (Bat Boy - The Musical,tick,tick...BOOM!) directs with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler.
Billed as "La Traviata" with a disco beat and based on the original Alexandre Dumas, fils novel, Kept plunges Ian, a naive young medical student, into the wild world of Studio 54 at the height of its decadence. There, he meets Caleigh, the woman of his dreams and the spirit of early 80's excess. Unfortunately, she is being "kept" by a heartless millionaire. While she and Ian try to hide their love from her sugar daddy and his mother, Caleigh discovers there is a much more insidious enemy in their midst — an unknown virus is killing her. The musical ends as the novel does, but Russell described the ending as "emotionally cleansing" and "redemptive."
"I can't make it through it without weeping," he said.
Russell waxed enthusiastic as he discussed the new musical, especially the first song, which was written only two weeks before the first preview. "Scott told us 'I think Caleigh's first song doesn't work conceptually'. Within 48 hours, we wrote a new number and it's really hot!"
Called "Let's Stay Out and Play," the number introduces Caleigh to the audience and to Ian. It takes place in the men's room, where she is snorting cocaine among the men, women and transvestites crowded into the toilet, doing the same thing. "Let's Stay Out and Play" ends with Caleigh kissing Ian, hooking him and, hopefully, the audience. Other songs in the score include the comic 'Why Are the Wrong People Rich?," the disco number "A Cold Day in Hell" (similar to the hit "I Will Survive" in feel and mood), the sexy love song "Why Don't We Stay in Bed?" and the ballad "Every Breath and Thought."
Broadway notable Christiane Noll (Jekyll & Hyde) stars as Caleigh with Will Swenson as Ian. The comic relief is provided by Brenda Braxton (Smokey Joe's Cafe) and Barrett Foa (Mamma Mia!) as Caleigh's best friend Brigitte and Ian's gay friend Blake, who introduces Ian to the Studio 54 subculture. Also in the cast are Dennis Parlato (The Sound of Music) as the millionaire Marshall, Karen Murphy (Titanic) as Ian's Mom, Mrs. Foster, and Emily Hsu, Brian Shepard, Nicole Ruth Snelson and Andre Ward as the glitterati.
As a team, Kreiger and Russell are best known for their cult Broadway favorite Side Show, a flop in New York that has shown considerable life in regional theatres. Everything's Ducky, another regional hit, had its world premiere at TheatreWorks in 2000. Kreiger is the composer of the Tony Award winners Dreamgirls and The Tap Dance Kid. Russell also wrote Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, a show he will direct this spring in Boston.
Stephen Chbosky co-wrote Kept's book. A screenwriter, he adapted the musical Rent for the upcoming Spike Lee movie and also contributed material to John Leguizamo's Sexaholix.
Robert Brill, who designed Cabaret, currently at home in Studio 54, recreated the club for Kept. Beaver Bauer designed the costumes as she did on Everything's Ducky.
For tickets to Kept, at the Mountain View Center in Mountain View, CA, call (650) 903-6000 or visit Theatreworks' website.
— by Christine Ehren