Donna Lynne Champlin Joins Albertine Cast at Playwrights Horizons

News   Donna Lynne Champlin Joins Albertine Cast at Playwrights Horizons My Life With Albertine, the refracted-through-memory musical by Richard Nelson and Ricky Ian Gordon, is going through some casting shifts and welcoming Donna Lynne Champlin to the company.

Amy Spanger is no longer with the cast. The piece, inspired by a section of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," had a workshop in recent weeks in anticipation of its Feb. 18 bow at Playwrights Horizons, and Champlin filled in for Emily Skinner, who was unavailable for the reading.

Skinner will now take over Spanger's role of the Cabaret Singer and Champlin takes over Skinner's former role of Francois/Grandmother.

Champlin, fresh out of Broadway's Hollywood Arms, was Skinner's understudy in Richard Nelson's James Joyce's The Dead and replaced her at the end of the Broadway run.

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Brent Carver, the Tony Award-winning Canadian actor who starred as Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman, will play a middle-aged Marcel in the world premiere of Nelson and Gordon's Proust-inspired My Life With Albertine, beginning Feb. 18, at Playwrights Horizons. The musical, drawing on the Albertine sections of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," will be the debut mainstage production at the new $27 million Playwrights Horizons facility at 416 W. 42nd Street. Nelson, who pens the book and co-writes the lyrics with composer Gordon, will direct the work.

The staging will also feature Tony nominee Skinner (Side Show), Champlin (By Jeeves), "Into the Woods" favorite Chad Kimball (as young Marcel), "Sweet Smell of Success" actress Kelli O'Hara (as Albertine), Ken Barnett (The Green Bird), Nicholas Belton (Off-Broadway debut), Caroline McMahon (The Wizard of Oz tour), Paul Anthony McGrane (Nelson's regional stagings of The Dead) and Paul A. Schafer (Off-Broadway debut).

Official opening is March 13. Performances continue to March 30, but if Nelson repeats the success he enjoyed with the PH-produced James Joyce's The Dead, for which he won the Best Book Tony Award, expect My Life to last longer.

The musical focuses on "the complicated and obsessive relationship between a young man of Society (Marcel, played by Kimball) and a fiery, middle-class girl (Albertine, played by Kelli O'Hara)," according to the announcement. "Narrating his tale from a private home theatre in 1920s Paris, an older Marcel (Brent Carver) looks back on his experiences with the girl who was his lover, tormentor and muse." Gordon previously told Playbill On-Line Marcel has been rewritten as a composer. In the novel, the character, who is based on Proust himself, is an aspiring writer.

Composer Gordon, known for Off-Broadway's Dream True, written with Tina Landau, and his settings of poems by Langston Hughes, told Playbill On-Line he only met Nelson in November [2001].

"Just meeting him really inspired me and excited me," Gordon told Playbill On-Line. "This particular story starts in the second book of 'Remembrance of Things Past.' It's the story of Marcel and Albertine, it's an obsessive love story. The way it's basically dealt with, there's the older narrator, the older Marcel. In a wealthy person's living room, this man decides he's going to tell the story of his life with Albertine. So a tiny little set is erected in someone's living room. His friends are going to help him act it out. That conceit alone makes everything possible. You're not trying to hide the fact that it's a theatrical retelling of something."

Gordon added: "Marcel is a composer. This is the music and story he has written. In the book, Marcel is preoccupied with a sonata, but in our piece, he's writing a sonata. The conceit makes it natural for things to be sung."

Albertine is introduced in the second volume of Proust's opus, "Within a Budding Grove," as the leader of a captivating clique of young girls Marcel encounters at a seaside resort. Over the course of the book, Marcel grows increasingly obsessed with the mercurial and mysterious Albertine until he finally takes her for his lover, against the wishes and advice of friends and family.

Once they are living together in Paris, Marcel becomes more and more possessive, shifting from love to jealousy and concocting all sort of fantasies of Albertine's duplicity in his head. He is particularly maddened by suggestions that Albertine leads a secret, libertine, perhaps bi-sexual double life.

Marcel and Albertine's relationship dominate the fifth and sixth volumes of the novel, tellingly called "The Captive" and "The Fugitive."

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Nelson seemed to reinvent the musical theatre form with The Dead, using parlor songs and then switching to character-specific narrative songs.

"The Dead is something I'm very, very proud of," Nelson told Playbill On-Line in December 2002. "Again, it's a human tale and it seemed like an effort to begin as if it were a play and have it evolve into a musical, where music became more and more important and the emotions became deeper and richer and more profound. I love the musical form. It seems to have the potential to do so much, to touch an emotion that's not easily touched in a play. It's something I very much want to keep doing. But not necessarily will the plays look like The Dead. Albertine will be very different, but I hope human."

Is Albertine operatic?

"The Proust novels are very constructed," Nelson explained. "They are very self-conscious in a wonderful way because they are often about self-consciousness. He makes comments upon that. Our Albertine is a story told to us by a narrator, much like in the Proust, and he will give us his show of his life with Albertine. It's a little show in a little proscenium in someone's house."

And is the Marcel character, in the musical, processing his own coming of age and the relationship with the love of his life?

Nelson said, "Yes. Exactly: The love of his life. He's telling you his story, when he was 18 years old and the girl he met — and lost."

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Designers are Thomas Lynch (scenic), Susan Hilferty (costume), James Ingalls (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound). Orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin and musical director is Charles Prince.

Tickets are $60. The first performance of the run is a pay what-you-can show. For information, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.