On March 13, Playwrights Horizons opens the elegant new show by composer and co-lyricist Ricky Ian Gordon and Richard Nelson, who wrote the book, co-wrote the lyrics and directs.
Nelson previously told Playbill On-Line that My Life With Albertine is a refracted-through-memory tale of young love. Inside a tiny proscenium constructed in a Paris home in 1919, the depleted, middle-aged Marcel (Brent Carver), apparently a composer, tells the story of his meeting, affair and breakup with Albertine (Kelli O'Hara), "the love of his life," Nelson said. "He's telling you his story, when he was 18 years old and the girl he met — and lost."
Despite the overtly theatrical frame, the musical has naturalistic echoes of Nelson's reserved and tasteful James Joyce's The Dead, for which the playwright won the Tony Award for Best Book.
The new musical is the first to christen the new $27 million mainstage at Playwrights Horizons on West 42nd Street. Previews began Feb. 18 and performances continue to March 30, though an extension is likely if reviews match those for The Dead (which moved from PH to Broadway).
The trio at the center of the production are Brent Carver as the older Marcel, Chad Kimball as the young Marcel and Kelli O'Hara as Albertine. The period-flavored original music and lyrics mesh to form a lullabye, a children's folk song, ballads, laments and lusty cabaret songs — all written by Nelson and Gordon and not culled from actual period texts, as composer Shaun Davey's songs for The Dead were. Song titles include "Is It Too Late," "Balbec-by-the-Sea," "Lullabye," "Ferret Song," "Song of Solitude," "The Different Albertines," "My Soul Weeps," "I Want You," "I Need Me a Girl," "Sometimes," "The Letters" and "If It Is True."
My Life With Albertine is drawn from a section of Marcel Proust's mammoth novel, "Remembrance of Things Past." 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.
Ricky Ian Gordon is known for his art songs (Only Heaven is a collection of sung Langston Hughes poems) and Off-Broadway's Dream True (with collaborator Tina Landau).
The full Playwrights Horizons cast, Carver, Emily Skinner, Kimball, O'Hara, Donna Lynne Champlin, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Nicholas Belton, Caroline McMahon, Paul Anthony McGrane, Jim Poulos, Paul A. Schaeffer, Brad Spencer, Rena Strober and Laura Woyasz.
Skinner (The Dead, Side Show, Dinner at Eight) plays a cabaret singer named Mademoiselle Lea (Amy Spanger was originally announced) and Champlin (Hollywood Arms, The Dead) plays Francoise/Grandmother. Moriber, who played Lily in Nelson's The Dead for PH and on Broadway, plays Rosemonde in My Life With Albertine.
O'Hara was the troubled sister, Susan, in the 2002 Broadway musical, Sweet Smell of Success. Carner won the Tony Award for playing Molina in The Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Kimball is the former Milky White of Broadway's Into the Woods.
Composer Gordon previously told Playbill On-Line Marcel has been reconceived as a composer. In the novel, the character, who is based on Proust himself, is an aspiring writer. In previews, Marcel's profession was not fully explained.
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. Sean Curran choreographs.
Playwrights Horizons' mainstage and Peter Jay Sharp studio are at 416 W. 42nd Street. Albertine tickets are $60. For information, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.
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."