Original cast recording
|Music||Michael John LaChiusa|
|Lyrics||Michael John LaChiusa|
|Book||Michael John LaChiusa|
|Basis||Loosely based on Medea|
Marie Christine is a musical written by Michael John LaChiusa. It opened on Broadway in 1999. Set in 1890s New Orleans and then 5 years later in Chicago; the story is loosely based on the Greek play Medea, and uses elements of voodoo rituals and practices. The title character was based in part on the historical figure of Marie Laveau – specifically, her daughter, who took the same name – and the myths surrounding them.
Following the success of Michael John LaChiusa's 1993 musical Hello Again, which premiered at Lincoln Center Theater directed by Graciela Daniele, LaChiusa and Daniele decided to develop a new musical work based on a classic text for Audra McDonald. McDonald won her first Tony Award in the acclaimed 1994 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, produced by Lincoln Center Theater. The musical was workshopped a handful of times through 1996 and in development for three and a half years before its initial staging. Marie Christine followed Parade at the Vivian Beaumont- another large, new musical created at LCT and written by a young composer, Jason Robert Brown. Both works shared similar themes and stories of racism, misogyny, and redemption in the American South.
One of the last new musicals to open in the 20th century, it opened on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater of Lincoln Center Theater on December 2, 1999 in a limited run and closed on January 9, 2000 after 42 performances and 39 previews. Directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, it starred Audra McDonald as Marie Christine, Anthony Crivello as Dante Keyes, Vivian Reed as Marie Christine's voodoo priestess mother, and Mary Testa as Magdalena. While billed initially as a limited run by Lincoln Center Theater, any chance of further extension of the production was severed with the theater's announcement that the musical "dance play" Contact would transfer to the Beaumont from the smaller, Off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in March of 2000. Contact would go on to play 1,010 performances and win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2000.
The production was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical (LaChiusa), Best Score (LaChiusa), and Best Leading Actress in a Musical (McDonald). An original Broadway cast album was released by RCA Victor following the show's closing.
Columbia Stages presented the first New York City revival of the piece, opening on March 6, 2013 through March 9th and was staged in a raw space at 3LD Technology and Art Center directed by Raymond Zilberberg.
- Prelude (A Prison)
In New Orleans in 1899, Marie Christine- a racially mixed woman, is in prison without a trial to face death. The prisoners ask her to tell her story ("Before the Morning"). Three of the prisoners, acting as a Greek chorus, follow her as she tells of her mother, also named Marie Christine, who was a practitioner of voodoo magic and used it to help people who believed in the craft ("Mamzell' Marie"). Her mother warned her that although they know magic, they are still human and can make great mistakes ("Ton Grandpère est le Soleil (Your Grandfather Is the Sun)")
- Act I (1894)
In 1894, Marie meets Dante Keyes, the father of her children, at Blue Rose Park on Lake Pontchartrain, just outside of New Orleans ("Beautiful"). She is instantly drawn to him, although he is a white sea captain who, while charming, is often rude ("In An Instant").
Marie tells him of her two brothers, Jean and Paris, who are her caretakers since both her parents are dead. Their mother is held in low esteem in the brothers eyes due to her use of magic, which they disapprove of. Their father was white, and he left their mother and had Paris and Jean work as his servants - due to this they now are quite wealthy. The brothers also care of the dowry left to Marie. Paris and Jean want Marie to marry a man worthy of her, and she feels trapped by them. Jean is having a party later in a month to celebrate his engagement to Beatrice, a woman of class and stature befitting to a man of his stature. Both brothers are leaving for a month to solve other matters. After they leave, Marie confides in her maid, Lisette, that woman can use their wiles to control men if they know how ("Way Back to Paradise").
Marie is increasingly enthralled by Dante ("When You Look At a Man"), who arrogantly tells of his gifts on the sea ("The Storm"). His ship has been taken off course during a storm while delivering fruit, which has spoiled due to the lost time. He is trying to get the money he and his crew are owed, which Marie offers to get for him. She reveals her magic and how, like her mother, she helps those who ask her for her services ("C'est L'Amour" / "To Find a Lover"). Dante is skeptical of magic, and tells her of his travels ("Nothing Beats Chicago"). Marie has never left New Orleans and wishes to explore the world. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Dante reveals the loneliness of life at sea, although when he is on land, he hears the ocean calling to him ("Ocean Is Different"). To cover up his inner feelings, Dante tells Marie of his sexual exploits, and as they dance, he seduces her and they make love in the park ("Danced With a Girl"). Lisette attempts to find Marie ("Tout Mi Mi") and Marie realizes Dante is her way out of her confining life. Her mother appears to warn her of the dangers of giving into her passions ("Miracles and Mysteries"). Lisette discovers Marie and Dante together ("Tout Mi Mi (Reprise)") and Marie sharply orders her away. Marie invites Dante to live in her guest house while her brothers are away and Dante reveals that he can no longer hear the ocean calling to him as he has fallen in love with Marie ("I Don't Hear the Ocean").
A month later, Marie's servants gossip in code about Dante ("Bird Inside the House"). Paris and Jean return home and confront Marie about Dante. The town is abuzz with the scandal and they implore her to send him away. She refuses and Paris harshly reminds her of their own father and how he and Jean were forced to be servants at his hand. Paris leaves and alone, Jean makes a plea to Marie ("All Eyes Look Upon You"). She agrees and rushes out.
Lisette walks in on the servants gossiping about Dante's imminent departure and Marie's newly discovered pregnancy. As the servants leave, Dante corners Lisette and attempts to seduce her ("Danced With a Girl (Reprise)"). Marie walks in as Lisette, in an attempt to stop Dante, reveals (in French) Marie's pregnancy. Marie commands Lisette to leave and tells Dante (who, not understanding French, is still in the dark that Marie is carrying his child) that he will take her with him. He initially refutes her, but she reveals that she has the key to Jean's study, where her dowry is kept. He agrees to bring the ship closer and return on the night of Jean's engagement party when they will steal the money and escape to Chicago ("We're Gonna Go to Chicago"). That night, Marie finds Lisette ("Never Fall Under the Spell" / "Dansez Calinda") and casts a spell that kills her in revenge. Marie is completely in love with Dante and will do anything for him ("And You Would Lie" / "I Will Give").
At the engagement party, Marie and Dante are caught and Paris and Jean beat him. To save Dante, Marie stabs Paris, who dies. Marie and Dante escape to the docks and, as they sail away, Marie wordlessly reveals that she is pregnant ("Finale of Act I").
- Act II (1899)
Marie and Dante have two boys and sail happily along the Eastern seaboard for five years ("Opening (Five Years Up and Down the Coast)" / "I Will Love You"). They finally start a home in Chicago. However, Dante, always ambitious, is now more interested in the political world of Chicago. At a brothel run by Magdalena ("Cincinnati"), Dante campaigns for Alderman, under the advice of Charles Gates, a political boss ("You're Looking at the Man").
Dante has left Marie and is engaged to Helena, the daughter of Charles Gates. Dante wants to keep his kids, which Marie refuses to allow. She reminds them of the good times and of his children ("The Scorpion"). Dante wants Marie to leave Chicago, telling her that she will be well provided for. Marie has nowhere to go - she has killed her brother and has left her mark in New York due to Dante's gambling. She reveals how she cast a spell on the daughters of the man who cheated Dante and they killed him ("Lover Bring Me Summer"). He will not return to her and she reminds him of her enduring love and her magic, which she can use for him or against him ("Tell Me"). She will not let him have her children and they part.
Magdalena meets Marie ("Billy Was Sweet" / "There's a Rumor Going Round") and offers to help her. Marie refuses her, but Magdalena advises her to give up her children now to give her more options. Magdalena can help Marie keep her boys if Marie will help Magdalena conceive a child, which she and her husband have been unable to do ("Paradise Is Burning Down"). That night, Marie uses her magic to entangle herself with Dante and Helena - although she is not physically there, they can feel her and they engage in a dangerous mènage-à-tois ("Prison In a Prison"). Charles Gate's workers find Marie at her home and tell her she must leave ("Better and Best"). Gates himself soon appears and, using force, convinces Marie to give her boys to him ("Good Looking Woman"). Marie is worried her children will end up servants like her brothers and decides to take Magdalena up on her offer ("You Can Taste the Blood").
Marie is haunted by her family and Lisette, who tell her she has gone too far ("No Turning Back") and cannot return ("Silver Mimosa" / "Before the Morning (Reprise)"). Marie meets Dante and asks him to allow the boys to give Helena a wedding gift to show how well behaved they are. She reveals she will always love him and that she is doomed to life alone, reliving her past and unable to change it ("Beautiful (Reprise)"). The boys will return to her after the wedding to say goodbye before they start their new life with Dante.
Magdalena arrives with the boys and recounts the wedding ("A Lovely Wedding"). Marie gives her a gift that will allow her to conceive. Magdalena tells Marie that she has friends that Marie will stay with and, within the month, the boys will be brought to Marie. Before they return to Dante, Marie wishes to bathe her boys. She sings a lullaby to them as she leads them off ("I Will Love You (Reprise)"). Dante runs in, revealing that present that Marie had given Helena turned out to be cursed and burned her alive ("Your Name"). Marie returns and Dante begs for his boys. He discovers that Marie killed them. Horrified, Magdalena throws Marie's magic gift to the ground and runs away.
Back at the prison, Marie's mother is heard followed by the prisoners, who tell Marie that at her hands, innocence has died, ultimately asks “but is love too small a pain for a woman?” Dawn arrives. Marie Christine walks towards the cold, rising light, into the burning sun ("Finale of Act II").
- Strings: 2 Violins, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Double Bass
- Brass: 2 Trumpets, 2 French Horns, 1 Cornet
- Keyboards: 1 Piano
- Woodwinds: Reed 1: Flute, Bb Clarinet, Piccolo, Alto Flute, Soprano Saxophone
- Reed 2: Bb, Eb & A Clarinet
- Reed 3: Bb Clarinet, Oboe, English Horn
- Reed 4: Bassoon, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Bb Clarinet
- Percussion: (2 Players)
- On-stage percussion: Kalimba, Caxixi, Shakers, Bones, Bamboo, Clic Clak, Floor Bells, Legs, Ashiko, Bells, Bell Chimes, Rattle, Sleigh Bell, Chime, Ciyes, Talking Drum, Vibratone in C, Vibratone in E
The production received mixed reviews.
Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times: "When Audra McDonald sings her first notes as the Medea-like heroine of Marie Christine, Michael John LaChiusa's solemn, sometimes somnolent musical tragedy at Lincoln Center, there is clearly sorcery at work.... Marie Christine ... is a resounding confirmation of Ms. McDonald's status as a vocal artist of singular skills and sensibility.... As a musical portrait of an individual, Marie Christine is stunning; as a compelling, complete production, it still feels oddly unfinished. Despite ravishing orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, the score rarely achieves much momentum or intensity on its own, and its recurrent motifs don't haunt the imagination as they should."
Michael Feingold, reviewing for the Village Voice, wrote: "Proficient, skilled, and imaginative, LaChiusa marshals an enormous panoply of approaches to tell his tale, but it doesn't hold together, even with the towering talent of Audra McDonald at its center, because the myth won't supply what he needs from it; his constantly shifting strategies only diffuse it further. Though LaChiusa's blurry conception is often conveyed in equally blurry lyrics, his music, with its constant restless invention, probably deserves a fairer hearing than it gets here. More than any new score I've heard recently, it wants unplugging."
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|2000||Tony Award||Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Audra McDonald||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Michael John LaChiusa||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Michael John LaChiusa||Nominated|
|Best Orchestrations||Jonathan Tunick||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design||Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Audra McDonald||Nominated|
- Pogrebin, Robin (5 November 1999). "Sending a Musical Into the World". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
- Suskin, Steve (17 May 2001). Broadway Yearbook, 1999-2000: A Relevant and Irreverent Record. Oxford University Press. p. 201. ISBN 0195349970. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- Suskin, Steve (17 May 2001). Broadway Yearbook, 1999-2000: A Relevant and Irreverent Record. Oxford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0195349970. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- "Playbill Vault: Contact". Playbill. Playbill. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- Bouthiller, Russell. broadwaybeat.com BROADWAY SNAP-SHOT:Marie Christine" Archived 2006-11-17 at the Wayback Machine broadwaybeat.com, December 13, 1999
- Brantley, Ben. "Theatre Review: The Promises of an Enchantress," The New York Times, December 3, 1999
- Feingold, Michael. "Women's Stresses", Village Voice, December 7, 1999