New Camille Claudel Musical, M. Claudel, Takes Shape March 22 in NYC, With LaManna, Kitt, Berry

News   New Camille Claudel Musical, M. Claudel, Takes Shape March 22 in NYC, With LaManna, Kitt, Berry
 
M. Claudel, Lori McKelvey's new musical about the life and love of 19th-century sculptress Camille Claudel and her relationship with Auguste Rodin, will get industry readings in Manhattan March 22.
Janine LaManna
Janine LaManna

This represents the first public viewing of the musical by 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. A private M. Claudel reading was previously held, and a demo recording has been made. With the March 22 presentations McKelvey and producer Kevin Duda want to gauge industry interest in the romantic musical drama.

Janine LaManna (Seussical) is Camille in the reading, which features a cast of 20. Special guest Eartha Kitt plays a wise, blind beggar woman, and Michael Berry is Rodin.

The new show is not to be confused with Frank Wildhorn's Camille Claudel, a musical that had a developmental staging in Chester, Connecticut, with Wildhorn's wife, Linda Eder, in the title role in summer 2003. No wider future for that show has been announced.

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 previously told Playbill On Line, speaking of M. Claudel. The work covers the period 1880-1913 and follows the sculptress' rich life, which included a stretch in an insane asylum and an affair with sculptor Auguste Rodin. Isabelle Adjani played the artist in a 1988 French film, "Camille Claudel." McKelvey has been working on M/. Claudel for several years.

M. Claudel may be especially appealing because it has a relatively small production cast of 12 (the reading adds an ensemble). McKelvey 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.

The March 22 reading cast includes Anne Kanengeiser as Camille's mother, Joe Vincent as Camille's father, Bret Shuford as Camille's brother, Neal Mayer, Kevin Covert, David Bonanno, Leslie Becker and more. The reading cast totals 20.

The 2 PM and 7 PM presentations are at Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 W. 46th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Henry Fonte directs, with choreography by Todd Underwood. Musical director is Gillian Berkowitz.

Kevin Duda, an actor who has worked in McKelvey shows, is turning producer to help shepherd the show, in association with Catherine Carpenter. He was struck by the script's passion and the fact that Camille a strong woman whose relationship with Rodin was so dense and intense: She was muse, lover and student all at once.

Industry people interested in attending may call (917) 441 6517 for a reservation.

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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.

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