Gauguin-The Musical
Myriad Productions

Dare to dream. Journey with Paul Gauguin, businessman turned artist, who sacrificed everything for Paradise. Be swept away by the passion and beauty of the music.. and a story that could change your life!

9/24/01 - 1/13/02

Dare to dream. Journey with Paul Gauguin, businessman turned artist, who sacrificed everything for Paradise. Be swept away by the passion and beauty of the music.. and a story that could change your life!

?Grant Robbin has written pleasant melodies for this world-premiere musical, but his lyrics are relentlessly pedestrian. Moreover he lacks the dramatic skill to depict Gauguin both honestly and sympathetically. Instead of showing the conflict between family and art, Robbin simply announces it at the beginning and spends the rest of the play repeating it. Matthew Shepard, who has a marvelous voice and an appealing persona, never gets to create a character of the artist. Unless we see how Sunday painting comes to dominate Gauguin's life, his choices seem not just selfish but deluded; it's cheating to rely on his eventual success. And when Gauguin's stay in Tahiti is disrupted by racist missionaries and this self-absorbed man invests his dying energy defending native culture, it may be historically accurate--he enjoyed defying authority--but the audience has been given no basis for believing it. Gauguin's own fantasies about "the primitive" are never pursued. (By contrast, Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Pacific Overtures takes seriously the culture clash between colonizer and colonized.) Director Clayton Phillips manages the ensemble competently but should have trimmed the show to less than two hours. Hiring a choreographer would have been good too. Music director Linda Dowdell elicits exceptional vocals from ensemble members Kara Delay and William King. A song making fun of critics may have been intended to inoculate the show against criticism. Sorry.? Kelly Kleiman, Chicago Reader October 26, 2001

?Grant Robbin, the man who wrote book, music and lyrics for ?Gauguin: The Musical,? is a composer with palpable talent.
He won?t ever win over the high-art, Sondhelim-loving brigade, but his skills at building a stirring musical number and hooking the audience with a catchy melody compare favorably with those of Frank Wildhorn the ?Jekyll & Hyde? impresario who?s made a ton of money on Broadway.
Since the American musical theater badly needs more populist songwriters, Robbin could be a significant find. But this composer?s ability to move forward in the legitimate theater business will depend on his ability to realize that almost every other aspect of ?Gauguin: The Musical? needs to be thrown into one of the Division Street trashcans found outside the Chopin Theatre.
This world premiere comes with the unmistakable whiff of vanity.
Robbin, who is one of the producers, has expended a lot of money on the show, which is replete with a live band, a top-shelf cast, and a fine array of period costumes and scenic tricks.
For those used to seeing the Chopin housing alternative (usually very serious) productions, the place is almost unrecognizable amid the valet parkers and the newly dressed-up marquee The show is being promoted as taking place ?only five minutes from downtown,? which would require the kind of excessive speed more in one?s mind upon exiting the show.
This bio-musical spends much of the first act probing the decision of Paul Gauguin (Matthew Shepard) to quit his day job to paint. In number after number and sexist scene after sexist scene, Mrs. Gauguin (played with remarkable fortitude by Joanne Schmoll) whines at her husband to think of his wife, his daughter, his prospects and so on.
In the second act, Gauguin lands in Tahiti, where he falls for the stereotypically ?exotic? Tehura (Stephanie Santos), only to contract a venereal disease and get involved in a conflict with corrupt local church officials. As a bathetic coda, we?re treated to a naked Gauguin jumping into what looks like one of his own paintings.
There?s nothing to recommend in the book, which is na‹ve and reductive. One of its most irritating features in that the last word of almost every scene also form the first of the next. Oy vey.
Despite a cast with clear abilities (Shepard does his considerable best), director Clayton Phillips? production is mainly crude and confused.
And where the director attempted to be the show?s choreographer, the results are laughably bad.
Amid all this hubris, though are, numerous stellar numbers ? a full raft of sweet ballads and amusing specialty numbers ? all sung, for the most part, very well.
These songs should be rescued by Robbin, and they can be, if he hires someone to write a new book, finds a choreographer and submits this show to the legitimate development process that musicals invariably require before being fit for an audience.? Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

?For many years, there was a subway poster in New York designed to catch the eye of weary commuters en route to their mundane jobs, and to encourage enrollment in a well-known art school.
The poster showed artist Paul Gauguin, wild-eyed and dressed in a business suit. Scrawled alongside his image were these suggestive words: "At the age of 35, Gauguin was still working in a bank."
In fact, he was working as a stockbroker in Paris. No matter. The message was clear: Do as Gauguin did in 1883, when he quit his job, more or less abandoned his proper Danish wife and beloved children, and traded in his life of bourgeois security and creature comforts to pursue his passion for painting and what he sensed was his destiny as a great artist. At this point begins "Gauguin: The Musical," the intelligent, neatly structured, independently produced show now in its world premiere at the Chopin Theatre. (To see the masterpieces that resulted from his rebellion, head to the Art Institute for the lavish exhibition "Van Gogh and Gauguin in Arles.") The story ends, of course, with the artist adrift in the South Seas, wracked by syphilis and still questioning his life choices, even as his legacy seems to be assured in Europe.
Featuring music, lyrics and book by Grant Robbin (a former Second City actor), "Gauguin" does many things right. The score moves easily from scene-setting songs to fervent ballads, a sensual bossa nova- tinged tune and anthems of the artist's existence. The overall narrative is well-crafted and unfolds with clarity. The characters are carefully delineated and their relationships carefully drawn.
Director Clayton Phillips has assembled a solid cast and devised a number of cleverly staged scenes (most notably in a song called "Heaven or Hell," in which he uses the gestures of an auction). And with fairly modest means, designers Matthew York (sets), Paul Williams (lighting) and Jeff Hendry (costumes) have conjured both the feel and colors of Paris and Copenhagen, as well as Tahiti. The result is an appealing journey into the artist's life, even if it doesn't entirely avoid the usual clich‚s of the struggling artist (note the song "Painters, Prostitutes & Pimps"). While it lacks the transcendent quality of "Sunday in the Park with George"--Stephen Sondheim's musical about Gauguin's contemporary, Georges Seurat--it covers a great deal of ground and deftly captures the artist's shifting moods and the landscapes in which he forged his career.
The show gets off to an energetic start with "Ev'ryday's the Same," a song that connects with its audience in much the same way that subway poster did in its suggestion of the routine of office work. It then does a quick flashback to 1848, as the infant Gauguin and his family are on board a ship to Peru, where his father plans to pursue his longtime dream of publishing a newspaper. His father takes ill and dies, leaving his son a pocket watch that will later figure prominently in the story. But the seeds of the "pursue your dream" spirit have been planted.
We see Gauguin (Matthew Shepard) with his sympathetic but financially worried wife, Mette (Joanne Schmoll, whose warm voice and skillful acting bring depth to the role), as well as with his favorite daughter, Aline (Amber Robbin, the real-life daughter of the show's creator, who also happens to have perfect diction, an alluring voice and lush red hair), and with his harried dealer, Daniel de Monfried (Mark Giannettino). And we come to realize how difficult Gauguin's decision must have been as he first moves in with his inhospitable in-laws in Copenhagen and then returns to France alone.
In the show's second (and stronger) act, the scene shifts from chilly Europe to the sensual South Seas, where Gauguin hits his stride as an artist and falls in love with Tehura (a most appealing performance by Stephanie Santos), a young woman in tune with nature and a noncommercial world, even if she is attracted to Parisian style.
Gauguin's return to Paris inspires two songs--Tehura's "Forever," in which she tells him she will wait for him to return, and "There Was a Time," in which Mette and Gauguin recall their initial love for each other. One of the musical's most interesting scenes occurs when the artist returns to the South Seas: He finds that Tehura has been converted to Christianity and that the social fabric of the island has been brutally destroyed under the oppressive rule of Bishop Martin (expertly played by Tom Daugherty).
Not surprisingly, the lion's share of the work in "Gauguin" falls to the title character; Shepard has a strong voice, good looks and obvious intelligence. He does a fine job, deftly suggesting the feelings of insecurity that dogged the artist for decades. What is sometimes missing in the portrayal--at least until the final scenes-- is a certain rage and arrogance.
To a great extent, that also is what is missing in the show as a whole--a sense of the artist's edginess and rebellion, and his struggle with the painting process itself. Nevertheless, this is a highly polished workshop, with considerable potential. And even now, it offers much to enjoy.?Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times October 21, 2001

Grant Robbin

Clayton Phillips

Matthew Shepard, Joanne Schmoll, Amber Robbin, Tom Daugherty, Marc Giannettino, Kara Delay, Stephanie SantosAdam Busch, Jeremy Rill, Vickie Daignault

Don Jakoby, Jim Shrin, Henry Holmes, Grant Robbin, Matthew York, Jeff Hendry, Paul Williams, Linda Dowdell

Tags: Theater, American, 2001