The busy and prolific composer Michael John LaChiusa is developing a new musical for Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre. The project, titled The Highest Yellow is based on the life of Dr. Felix Rey, a physician who treated post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh at the peak of the artist's illness. Signature's managing director Paul Gamble said the theatre hopes to present the show during the 1999-2000 season.
Signature's artistic director Eric D. Schaeffer stumbled across Rey's story in a children's book about Van Gogh. He referred the material to Signature's playwright-in-residence John Strand. Strand was then put together with LaChiusa to create a musical on the subject. Schaeffer directed a workshop of The Highest Yellow at Smith College in the summer of 1997.
Van Gogh is considered a seminal modern artist, known for his thick brush work and psychologically tempestuous compositions. Working in poverty and obscurity most of his life, his paintings now routinely sell for millions of dollars. The title of Highest Yellow refers to Van Gogh's highest state of mind. Gamble said the musical will be only the second musical premiere for Signature, after Kander & Ebb's new Over & Over, set to open in January.
It has been a busy time for LaChiusa. His musical The Wild Party is due to be presented at the Public Theatre this season, though its February premiere was recently delayed until the spring. Wild Party is based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March about a debauched gala in 1920s Hollywood. Another of his works, Marie Christine , which is described as "a quasi operatic version of Medea set in 1880s New Orleans and Chicago," is expected to bow at Lincoln Center Theatre next fall. The Signature produced one of his early works, First Lady Suite, in 1995.
-- By Robert Simonson