Michael John LaChiusa

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Michael John LaChiusa
Michael John LaChiusa Headshot.jpg
An official publicity photo for Michael John LaChiusa
Born (1962-07-24) July 24, 1962 (age 53)
Chautauqua, New York
Occupation Composer, lyricist, librettist
Period 1989—present

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.[1][2] 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.[3] 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.[4][5] LaChiusa graduated high school early and enrolled in a television journalism program, but he dropped out after a semester.[3][4]

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.[2] 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.[6]

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."[3] 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".[2] 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.[7] 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?'"[2]

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".[1] 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."[1] The article caused a great deal of controversy and provoked shocked responses from several of LaChiusa's colleagues, who saw it as an attack.[1]

In October 2005, LaChiusa's musical See What I Wanna See, based on the stories "In a Grove," "The Dragon," and "Kesa and Morito" by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater and closed on December 4, 2005.[8][3] LaChiusa was nominated for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics.

In September 2008, he was quoted in Opera News Online as working on an adaptation of Bizet's opera Carmen with Tony winner Audra McDonald in mind.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

LaChiusa's work, Nine Fathers of Ariel, is "a dance musical which centers on a mother's effort to provide her son with good fathering in the face of a war-obsessed world".[12] It had a 29-hour private industry reading on April 5, 2014. It was a co-collaboration with Ellen Fitzhugh,with Graciela Daniele directing and musical direction by Mary Mitchell Campbell. The cast included Tonya Pinkins, Marc Kudisch, Malcolm Gets, Telly Leung, Bryce Ryness, Darius de Haas, Stanley Bahorek, Sydney James Harcourt, Ashley Robinson, Casey Robinson, and Hayley Feinstein.[12]

LaChiusa has written a new musical, First Daughter Suite, which premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on October 6, 2015 (previews), directed by Kirsten Sanderson. He stated about the work: "While he didn't want to fully imitate First Lady Suite, LaChiusa felt that the new piece could be an extension of the earlier piece. It would not, however, be a sequel." The musical looks at the women in the lives of Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.[13] The women are: Patricia Nixon, played by Barbara Walsh and daughters Tricia played by Betsy Morgan and Julie played by Cassie Levy; Rosalynn Carter, played by Rachel Bay Jones and Amy Carter played by Carly Tamer; Betty Ford played by Alison Fraser and Susan Ford played by Betsy Morgan; Patti Davis played by Cassie Levy and mother Nancy Reagan, played by Alison Fraser; and Barbara Bush played by Mary Testa and daughter-in-law Laura played by Rachel Bay Jones.[14][15]


Michael John LaChiusa speaks to students after a performance of his musical Bernarda Alba (musical) at Columbia College.

LaChiusa is an adjunct professor at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.


LaChiusa also performs at various cabaret and concert venues, including:

  • La La Chiusa at Joe's Pub (October 16, 2000 – November 5, 2000);[16]
  • The Girly Show, as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series (May 17, 2004)[17] and at Cinespace, Hollywood (August 15, 2005);[18]
  • Platform Series at Lincoln Center Theater (March 29, 2006);[19]
  • Little Fish in Concert at Joe's Pub (July 10, 2006);[20]
  • 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);[21][22][23]

Personal life[edit]

In 2004, LaChiusa told The Washington Post that he was a "gay man, happily single".[2]


Broadway productions[edit]

Off-Broadway productions[edit]

Other theatre[edit]

  • Bittersweet, book, music and lyrics by Jerry Young; Boston, MA. Musical Director Michael Lachiusa. (1979)
  • Buzzsaw Berkeley, book by Doug Wright, music and lyrics by LaChiusa; WPA Theater, New York City (1989)
  • Broken Sleep book by Donald Margulies, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA, 3 plays with music (1997)[26]
  • 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)[27]
  • The Highest Yellow, music and lyrics by LaChiusa, book by John Strand; musical commissioned and premiered by Signature Theatre Arlington, Virginia (2004)[28]
  • 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)[29]
  • 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)[30]
  • 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)[31]

Opera, song cycles and other music[edit]


  • Wonder Pets: LaChiusa wrote music for 15 episodes of this animated series (2006–07)[40]
  • Broadway: The Golden Age: LaChiusa was one of many Broadway insiders interviewed for this documentary (2003)[41]


  1. ^ a b c d Simonson, Robert. "2 Broadway Composers Do Inharmonious Battle", The New York Times, 2005-08-11. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e 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.
  3. ^ a b c d Green, Jesse. "So Many Musicals to Write, So Little Time", The New York Times, 2006-03-05. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
  4. ^ a b Blue, Robert Wilder. "Lovers and Friends", USOperaWeb, June 2001. Retrieved on 2008-03-01.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Drama Desk Awards 2006 - Winners 2001". Dramadesk.com. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  7. ^ McKinley, Jesse. "Shut Out of Tonys, The Wild Party Is Over", The New York Times, 2000-06-07. Retrieved on 2008-02-29.
  8. ^ See What I Wanna See Internet Off-Broadway listing, accessed September 28, 2015
  9. ^ Portantiere, Michael. "Over the Borderline", Opera News Online, September 2008, vol 73, no. 3. Retrieved on 2008-09-02.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review:Obsessed With Taking the Plunge" The New York Times, November 6, 2011
  12. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam. "Reading of Michael John LaChiusa Ellen Fitzhugh Dance Musical to Feature Tonya Pinkins Marc Kudisch Malcolm Gets Telly Leung and More" Playbill, April 2, 2014
  13. ^ Fox, Jenna Tesse. "Why Michael John LaChiusa is "Obsessed" With Exploring Unheard Stories of Women — Especially in the White House" Playbill, September 28, 2015
  14. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Alison Fraser, Rachel Bay Jones, Caissie Levy, Barbara Walsh Star in 'First Daughter Suite', Beginning Tonight" Playbill, October 6, 2015
  15. ^ "'First Daughter Suite' Listing, Press Release" publictheater.org, accessed September 28, 2015
  16. ^ La La LaChiusa listing at Joes Pub, October-November 2000 theatermania.com, accessed July 27, 2009
  17. ^ "Photo Coverage: 'The Girly Show' a Celebration of the Music of Michael John La Chiusa," broadwayworld.com, May 19, 2004
  18. ^ BWW News Desk. "LaChiusa Appears at Blank's Gala for Girly Show, Aug. 15," broadwayworld.com, August 9, 2005
  19. ^ BWW News Desk. "LaChiusa Appears at LCT as Part of Platform Series, March 29," broadwayworld.com, March 29, 2006;
  20. ^ Little Fish in concert listing for July 10, 2006 theatermania.com, accessed July 27, 2009
  21. ^ Gans, Andrew. LaChiusa to Celebrate Little Fish CD with Joe's Pub Concert," playbill.com, August 5, 2008
  22. ^ "Michael John LaChiusa:Little Fish release concert listing for September 8, 2008". Joespub.com. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  23. ^ "Photo Moments; Little Fish at Joe's Pub" shkbuzz.wordpress.com, September 18, 2008
  24. ^ Queen of the Mist listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database listing, accessed November 8, 2011
  25. ^ "Public Theater 2015-2016 Season" public theater.org, accessed June 25, 2015
  26. ^ Sommer, Elyse."CurtainUp Reviews Broken Sleep: Three Plays" curtainup.com, accessed July 27, 2009
  27. ^ LaChiusa, Michael."Theatre; Making Sugar Plum Fairies Sing, Sweetly, in Japanese,"The New York Times, July 7, 2002
  28. ^ Toscano, Michael."Review:The Highest Yellow", theatermania.com, November 9, 2004
  29. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. "LaChiusa Work Hotel C'est L'Amour with Vicki Lewis Opens in L.A.," playbill.com, September 30, 2006
  30. ^ Isherwood, Charles. "Woman Troubles, in a Handy Musical Variety Pack", The New York Times, May 23, 2008
  31. ^ 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
  32. ^ "Desert of Roses information" members.macconnect.com
  33. ^ "From the Towers of the Moon information", members.macconnect.com
  34. ^ Rothstein, Edward. "Review/Opera; Tania, Cinque and the Super Bowl," The New York Times, June 19, 1992
  35. ^ Waleson, Heidi. "Chilly Scenes of Winter," andante.com, July 2001.
  36. ^ Gans, Andrew."Audra McDonald Premieres The Seven Deadly Sins June 2 at Zankel Hall", playbill.com, June 2, 2004
  37. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "LaChiusa, Schwartz, Bucchino, Marzullo and More Write Cello Pieces for March 7 Concert," playbill.com, March 7, 2005
  38. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. "Broadway's Diggs and Palermo Create Dance Play pre.view with LaChiusa Music," playbill.com, January 31, 2006
  39. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald Makes Houston Grand Opera Debut March 4," playbill.com, March 4, 2006
  40. ^ Internet Movie Database listing for Wonder Pets, credits imdb.com
  41. ^ "Broadway: The Golden Age" listing imdb.com

Further reading[edit]

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