Lautrec

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Previewed 27 March 2000, opened 6 April 2000, closed 17 June 2000 at the Shaftesbury Theatre London

Charles Aznavour's new musical Lautrec in London featuring Sevan Stephan as 'Henri Toulouse-Lautrec' and directed by Rob Bettinson

Enjoy A Little Decadence! Paris in the 1890s. The decadent world of Montmartre: the dance halls, the can can, he beautiful women, the laughter, the love and the pain. At the heart of it, the tiny figure of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec who towered over his contemporaries. Born an aristocrat, Lautrec, with a paint brush in one hand and a drink in the other, captured completely the age in which he lived, loved and revelled.

The cast for the musical Lautrec in London features Sevan Stephan as 'Henri Toulouse-Lautrec' and Hannah Waddingham as 'Suzanne Valadon'. It has original music and lyrics by Charles Aznavour with book by Shaun McKenna and English lyrics by Dee Shipman. The production is directed by Rob Bettinson with choreography and musical staging by Quinny Sacks, designs by Robert Jones, lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Martin Levan. Rob Bettinson's West End credits include Leonardo the Musical at the Strand Theatre in 1993.

"If the French painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec might be considered ill-conceived - inbreeding led to his physical disabilities - the musical about his life certainly is. Charles Aznavour wrote the music and Dee Shipman the English lyrics for Lautrec and they must accept most of the blame for a show as quality challenged as the artist was vertically so. One halfway-good song and a cluster of also-rans means you're likely to exit humming Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings rather than the score. Shaun McKenna's script, plotting the pint-sized genius's wretched life-alcoholism, VD, failed love affairs and early death - is dire, too. Only the cast emerges with very much credit from Rob Bettinson's energetic production. As the artist, Sevan Stephan contributes a winning and sparing performance - not too much Toulouse, you might say - and Hannah Waddington looks striking and sings stridently as Suzanne, the hooker-turned-model he's besotted with." The News of the World

"This bawdy 19th century romp is as exciting as watching a painting dry. Charles Aznavour wrote the book and the lyrics so there's no one else to blame. He should stick to warbling. Sevan Stephan, who measures less than five feet on tip toe, does his best in the title role, but he is on a hiding to nothing as he scampers from one dire number to the next. So is statuesque Hannah Waddingham who towers over him as Suzanne, the tart who stole his heart. The good-time girls of Montmartre pull up their skirts but the place still feels about as decadent as Disneyland. The 3.5 million show is short on everything except length. It runs for three hours but it seems an awful lot longer." The Daily Mirror

"As it stands, it is a bizarre event: lavishly mounted, passionately performed and yet peculiarly empty. It contrives to make the rich and eventful story of Toulouse-Lautrec's life bland and unengaging... The greatest culprit is the script, by Shaun McKenna, which is poorly structured and woefully underwritten. Lautrec fights with his family, takes a radical stance on art and truth, falls in love with a prostitute, gets syphilis, drinks himself near to death, goes mad, is committed to an asylum, loses the girl - but all of this is dealt with in such thinly written short scenes that the pathos and drama are completely lost. When Lautrec and Suzanne fall in love you don't feel it; when they part, you don't feel it. And Lautrec's character is so sketchily written that he ends up looking barely shop-soiled. Sevan Stephan, an ebullient actor, does his best to suggest the vigour, fascination, and uglier aspects of his character, but he is working without the benefit of agood canvas and brushes. Hannah Waddingham, meanwhile, gives a magnificent performance as Suzanne, full-voiced, strong and ardent, but she too has precious little to go on... Aznavour's music and lyrics are patchy. There are some witty songs, some touching and some unmemorable ones, and a couple of really compelling numbers, with the echoes of Brel and Piaf that the story needs. But although the best have that ability to tear straight to the heart of the matter, they are not sufficiently supported... All in all, this is not so much a telling portrait of an artist or a turn-of-the-century sketch as painting by numbers." The Financial Times

"One way to pass the time during Charles Aznavour's mawkish study of Toulouse-Lautrec is to try to catch echoes of other musicals. The ghosts of Les Mis, Phantom and Fiddler on the Roof all flash by at various points. But by the time the final glass of absinthe has been sunk, you simply feel sorry for the brave-hearted cast - led by Sevan Stephan in the title role - who do their best to breathe life into a collection of resolutely wooden songs. Robert Jones's set gives the evening a touch of class... Hannah Waddingham makes a feisty romantic partner, but her part remains as flimsy as a second-hand camisole. All in all, not so much Folies Bergeres as a straightforward folly." The Sunday Times

The musical Lautrec in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre previewed from 27 March 2000, opened on 6 April 2000 and closed on 17 June 2000.

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