Michael John LaChiusa
|Michael John LaChiusa|
July 24, 1962 |
Chautauqua, New York
Michael John LaChiusa (born July 24, 1962) is an American musical theatre and opera composer, lyricist, and librettist. He is best known for musically esoteric shows such as Hello Again, Marie Christine, The Wild Party, and See What I Wanna See. He was nominated for four Tony Awards in 2000 for his score and book for both Marie Christine and The Wild Party and received another nomination for his libretto for Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
LaChiusa grew up in Chautauqua, New York, the eldest of three boys in an Italian Catholic family. His parents had a "[v]ery mentally abusive" relationship; Michael was not close to his father, but was encouraged by his mother to pursue his interest in music. He taught himself to play piano at the age of seven and had little formal music training. LaChiusa was influenced early on by the music of "modern American composers" such as John Corigliano, John Adams, and Philip Glass, as well as the musical theatre composers George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Sondheim. LaChiusa graduated high school early and enrolled in a television journalism program, but he dropped out after a semester.
In 1980, LaChiusa moved to New York City, where he took jobs as a music director and accompanist while trying to find songwriting work. In the mid-1980s, he joined the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, where he was strongly influenced by a series of mentors and where he segued from writing "camp" songs to more serious work. In 1993, The Public Theater's producer George C. Wolfe presented LaChiusa's First Lady Suite. A year later, Lincoln Center produced his musical Hello Again Off Broadway. A series of interconnected stories about love based on Arthur Schnitzler's play La Ronde, Hello Again was nominated for ten Drama Desk Awards, including three (Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Music, and Outstanding Lyrics) for LaChiusa.
In 1995, LaChiusa wrote additional book material for the Broadway musical Chronicle of a Death Foretold (an adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's 1981 novella of the same name.) For the book, written with Graciela Daniele and Jim Lewis, LaChiusa received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical.
During the 1999-2000 season, two of LaChiusa's large-scale musicals premiered on Broadway: Marie Christine and The Wild Party. Marie Christine, a retelling of the Medea myth set in 19th-century Louisiana, starred Audra McDonald and attracted controversy due to its grim subject matter and demanding score—The New York Times reported that "even the formidable and classically trained McDonald could sing it only six times a week, rather than the standard eight." Marie Christine closed after 42 performances; LaChiusa later said that the show "in my mind should have been performed for three performances.... Only three. It's huge, and it's intensely difficult". The Wild Party was based on the 1928 poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March and starred Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin, and Eartha Kitt. The Wild Party struggled commercially; after receiving seven Tony nominations but failing to win a single one, producers closed the show. For both Marie Christine and The Wild Party, LaChiusa received Tony nominations for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.
In 2003, Little Fish, an uncharacteristically cheerful one-act musical for LaChiusa, based on two short stories by Deborah Eisenberg, premiered Off-Broadway. The show's failure sent LaChiusa into a funk; he recalled, "I went, 'My God, they don't want the hard stuff and more challenging material here in this city from me. They don't want something nice and fun, either. What am I supposed to do?'"
In August 2005, LaChiusa published an article in Opera News that disparaged several successful, upbeat Broadway musicals of the 2000s, among them The Producers and Hairspray, which LaChiusa dubbed a "faux-musical". He continued, "Instead of choreography, there is dancing. Instead of crafted songwriting, there is tune-positioning. Faux-musicals are mechanical; they have to be. For expectations to be met, there can be no room for risk, derring-do or innovation." The article caused a great deal of controversy and provoked shocked responses from several of LaChiusa's colleagues, who saw it as an attack.
In Fall 2005, LaChiusa's show See What I Wanna See, based on the stories "In a Grove," "The Dragon," and "Kesa and Morito" by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, had a successful Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater. LaChiusa was nominated for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics.
In April 2009, the Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia, premiered Giant, a musical adaptation of Edna Ferber's 1952 novel of the same name with music and lyrics by LaChiusa and book by Sybille Pearson, who wrote the book for the 1983 musical Baby.
LaChiusa's most recent work, Queen of the Mist, is a musical adaption of the story of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Commissioned by Off-Broadway theatre company the Transport Group Queen of the Mist received a developmental lab in fall 2010, and opened in November 2011 at The Gym at Judson. With direction by Jack Cummings III and choreography by Scott Rink, the musical stars Mary Testa and Julia Murney.
LaChiusa also performs at various cabaret and concert venues, including:
- La La Chiusa at Joe's Pub (October 16, 2000-November 5, 2000);
- The Girly Show, as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series (May 17, 2004) and at Cinespace, Hollywood (August 15, 2005);
- Platform Series at Lincoln Center Theater (March 29, 2006);
- Little Fish in Concert at Joe's Pub (July 10, 2006);
- Concert that featured music from Bernarda Alba and other LaChiusa scores as well as a Little Fish CD Release party ; Alice Ripley and Lea DeLaria, appeared at Joe's Pub (September 8, 2008);
Personal life 
Broadway productions 
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold (additional material only) (1995)
- Marie Christine (1999)
- The Wild Party (book with George C. Wolfe) (2000)
Off-Broadway productions 
- First Lady Suite (1993)
- Hello Again (1994)
- The Petrified Prince (book by Edward Gallardo) (1994)
- Little Fish (2003)
- See What I Wanna See (2005)
- Bernarda Alba (2006)
- Queen of the Mist (2011)
- Giant (2012)
Other theatre 
- Bittersweet, book, music and lyrics by Jerry Young; Boston, MA. Musical Director Michael Lachiusa. (1979)
- Triplets in Uniform, book and lyrics by Jeffrey Essmann, commissioned by Meryl Vladimer for The Club at La MaMa, New York City (background music by LaChiusa) (1989)
- Buzzsaw Berkeley, book by Doug Wright, music and lyrics by LaChiusa; WPA Theater, New York City (1989)
- Artificial Reality book and lyrics by Jeffrey Essmann, one-man sketch comedy; Perry Street Theater, New York City, music and piano accompaniment by LaChiusa (1991)
- Broken Sleep book by Donald Margulies, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA, 3 plays with music (1997)
- The Nutcracker, new musical theatre version (translated into Japanese) of The Nutcracker, book by Amon Miyamoto, music and lyrics by LaChiusa; premiere in Tokyo (2001)
- The Highest Yellow, music and lyrics by LaChiusa, book by John Strand; musical commissioned and premiered by Signature Theatre Arlington, Virginia (2004)
- Hotel C'est L'Amour, musical with music and lyrics by LaChiusa and conceived by Daniel Henning; premiere at The Blank Theatre Company, Los Angeles, California (2006)
- Inner Voices: Solo Musicals, three musicals in one act: Act 1 is Tres Ninas, lyrics and music by Ellen Fitzhugh and LaChiusa; Zipper Theater, New York City (2008)
- Giant, music and lyrics by LaChiusa, book by Sybille Pearson, Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia (2009)
- Los Otros, book and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh, music by LaChiusa, directed by Graciela Daniele, commissioned by Center Theatre Group; Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California (2012)
Opera, song cycles and other music 
- Four Short Operas: Break, Agnes, Eulogy For Mr. Hamm, Lucky Nurse, book, music and lyrics by LaChiusa, Playwrights Horizons (14 performances) (1991)
- Bella, Belle of Bylorussia, book and lyrics by Jeffrey Essmann, music by LaChiusa, WPA Theatre (1992)
- Desert of Roses, libretto by LaChiusa, music by Robert Moran, an opera commissioned and premiered by Houston Grand Opera (1992)
- From the Towers of the Moon, libretto by LaChiusa, music by Robert Moran, an opera commissioned and premiered by Minnesota Opera (1992)
- Tania, libretto by LaChiusa, music by Anthony Davis, Plays and Players Theater, New York City, and recorded (1992)
- Lovers and Friends (Chautauqua Variations), commissioned and performed by Lyric Opera of Chicago, book, music and lyrics by LaChiusa (2001)
- The Seven Deadly Sins: A Song Cycle, "The Christian Thing to Do", contribution to song cycle commissioned for Audra McDonald, performed at Carnegie Hall, New York City (2004)
- The Cello Project, chamber work for cello, part of a song cycle for Peter Sachon, cellist, premiered at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, New York City (2005)
- pre.view, choreography by Taye Diggs and Andrew Palermo, music by LaChiusa, Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York City (2006)
- Send (who are you? i love you) music and libretto by LaChiusa, co-conceived by LaChiusa and Lonny Price for Audra McDonald, performed by McDonald with Houston Grand Opera (2006)
- Wonder Pets: LaChiusa wrote music for 15 episodes of this animated series (2006–07)
- Broadway: The Golden Age: LaChiusa was one of many Broadway insiders interviewed for this documentary (2003)
- Simonson, Robert. "2 Broadway Composers Do Inharmonious Battle", The New York Times, 2005-08-11. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
- Pressley, Nelson. "At Long Last, All Systems Are Gogh For 'Yellow': Composer LaChiusa's Difficult Musical Shapes Up", The Washington Post, 2004-10-31. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
- Green, Jesse. "So Many Musicals to Write, So Little Time", The New York Times, 2006-03-05. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
- Blue, Robert Wilder. "Lovers and Friends", USOperaWeb, June 2001. Retrieved on 2008-03-01.
- Heilpern, John. "Worried About the War? Why Not Forget Your Troubles at Little Fish", The New York Observer, 2003-03-03. Retrieved on 2008-03-01.
- Drama Desk Awards 2006 - Winners 2001
- McKinley, Jesse. "Shut Out of Tonys, The Wild Party Is Over", The New York Times, 2000-06-07. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
- Portantiere, Michael. "Over the Borderline", Opera News Online, September 2008, vol 73, no. 3. Retrieved on 2008-09-02.
- Jones, Kenneth."DC's Signature Theatre Will Premiere LaChiusa Musical Giant in 2009; Ace and Whistle Also on Schedule", Playbill, 2008-03-04. Retrieved on 2008-03-04.
- Brantley, Ben."Theater Review:Obsessed With Taking the Plunge" The New York Times, November 6, 2011
- La La LaChiusa listing at Joes Pub, October-November 2000 theatermania.com, accessed July 27, 2009
- "Photo Coverage: 'The Girly Show' a Celebration of the Music of Michael John La Chiusa," broadwayworld.com, May 19, 2004
- BWW News Desk. "LaChiusa Appears at Blank's Gala for Girly Show, Aug. 15," broadwayworld.com, August 9, 2005
- BWW News Desk. "LaChiusa Appears at LCT as Part of Platform Series, March 29," broadwayworld.com, March 29, 2006;
- Little Fish in concert listing for July 10, 2006 theatermania.com, accessed July 27, 2009
- Gans, Andrew. LaChiusa to Celebrate Little Fish CD with Joe's Pub Concert," playbill.com, August 5, 2008
- Michael John LaChiusa:Little Fish release concert listing for September 8, 2008
- "Photo Moments; Little Fish at Joe's Pub" shkbuzz.wordpress.com, September 18, 2008
- Queen of the Mist listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database listing, accessed November 8, 2011
- Sommer, Elyse."CurtainUp Reviews Broken Sleep: Three Plays" curtainup.com, accessed July 27, 2009
- LaChiusa, Michael."Theatre; Making Sugar Plum Fairies Sing, Sweetly, in Japanese,"The New York Times, July 7, 2002
- Toscano, Michael."Review:The Highest Yellow", theatermania.com, November 9, 2004
- Hernandez, Ernio. "LaChiusa Work Hotel C'est L'Amour with Vicki Lewis Opens in L.A.," playbill.com, September 30, 2006
- Isherwood, Charles. "Woman Troubles, in a Handy Musical Variety Pack", The New York Times, May 23, 2008
- Jones, Kenneth."Michele Pawk and Julio Monge Sing 'Los Otros', a New Musical by Michael John LaChiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh" playbill.com, May 23, 2012
- Bella, Belle of Bylorussia, nodanw.com
- "Desert of Roses information" members.macconnect.com
- "From the Towers of the Moon information", members.macconnect.com
- Rothstein, Edward. "Review/Opera; Tania, Cinque and the Super Bowl," The New York Times, June 19, 1992
- Waleson, Heidi. "Chilly Scenes of Winter," andante.com, July 2001.
- Gans, Andrew."Audra McDonald Premieres The Seven Deadly Sins June 2 at Zankel Hall", playbill.com, June 2, 2004
- Jones, Kenneth. "LaChiusa, Schwartz, Bucchino, Marzullo and More Write Cello Pieces for March 7 Concert," playbill.com, March 7, 2005
- Hernandez, Ernio. "Broadway's Diggs and Palermo Create Dance Play pre.view with LaChiusa Music," playbill.com, January 31, 2006
- Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald Makes Houston Grand Opera Debut March 4," playbill.com, March 4, 2006
- Internet Movie Database listing for Wonder Pets, credits imdb.com
- "Broadway: The Golden Age" listing imdb.com
Further reading 
- Mordden, Ethan (2004). The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-23954-8.
- Internet Broadway Database page for Michael John LaChiusa
- Internet Off-Broadway Database listing
- Michael John LaChiusa - Downstage Center interview at American Theatre Wing.org
- Composers and their stage works (Michael John LaChiusa