Lori McKelvey, the Connecticut composer-lyricist-librettist who won the 2002 Kleban Award for her libretto to Camila, seen at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre in fall 2001, is planning a recording and private reading of her new musical, M. Claudel, about the troubled life of sculptress Camille Claudel.
As was the case with Camila, set in Argentina, McKelvey penned book, music and lyrics for M. Claudel.
"I think it's the best I've ever done," McKelvey told Playbill On Line, speaking of M. Claudel. The work covers the period 1880-1943 and follows the sculptress' rich life, which included a stretch in an insane asylum and an affair with sculptor Auguste Rodin.
The sculptress has also intrigued another musical theatre composer: Frank Wildhorn is using Claudel as the center of a new musical he's writing. Isabelle Adjani played the artist in a 1988 French film, "Camille Claudel." McKelvey said she has been writing M. Claudel for a couple of years and is looking to record the material and explore the script in a reading in the coming months.
Now that McKelvey has received the Kleban, which comes with a $100,000 cash prize, regional theatres will likely be asking about her future work. M. Claudel may be especially appealing because it has a relatively small cast of 12. She said her past work, Georgia and Camila, were not small-cast shows. "I wrote big shows and it's hard to get financial commitment from producers," she admitted. What does the title M. Claudel suggest?
"It's sort of mysterious," McKelvey said. "Monsieur? Mademoiselle? [The show] questions what all that means — a woman being a sculptor at a time of male artists...assumptions about what a woman should be."
McKelvey said she was intrigued by the fact that Claudel was a woman who chose to live alone, a choice that outraged her family and the community. "How dare she be independent," said McKelvey. "And sculpting was considered a masculine art."
Just as tango music informed her score for Camila, and folk informed her Civil War-set musical, Georgia, the M. Claudel score is influenced by "cabaret, a little bit of Edith Piaf and Ravel," McKelvey said.
McKelvey's Georgia had a reading at The Directors Company. The fact-based show concerns a black woman and a white woman (who passes as a man and fights in the Union Army) who save each other's lives during the Civil War. McKelvey said she writes book musicals in the tradition of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Her work also includes the small one-act, The Captain's Wife, about a woman on a whaling ship, which offered sea chanteys and "gruff, male four-part writing." She has also written music and half the book for a musical version of John L. Balderston's Berkeley Square with lyricist and co-librettist Lee Stern.
She also wrote music and lyrics for a feature movie, "Beauty and the Beast," starring John Savage and Rebecca DeMornay. It was shown on the Disney Channel 1991-96 and was released on video. She is represented by the Shukat Company.
— By Kenneth Jones