Forgotten Musicals Friday: Way Back to MARIE CHRISTINE

Audra McDonald in MARIE CHRISTINE. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Audra McDonald in Marie Christine.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

For December’s Forgotten Musicals Friday series, we’re looking at the “Miracles and Mysteries” of Marie Christine, the second Broadway musical from one of contemporary musical theatre’s most thrilling voices, Michael John LaChiusa. As the month speeds by, we’ll explore the background of the show, its book and score, its staging and design and finally, the show’s legacy. In today’s column, we’ll shine a spotlight on how the show came to be.

The Lincoln Center Theater features strongly in the making of Marie Christine. LaChiusa’s Hello Again (1993) premiered under its banner, while the star around whom the show was crafted, Audra McDonald, won her first Tony Award for the Lincoln Theatre’s presentation of the Royal National Theatre’s stateside transfer of their production of Carousel. Marie Christine also reunited LaChiusa with the director-choreographer of Hello Again, Graciela Daniele. A blend of Euripides’ Medea and the legends surrounding Marie Laveau and her daughter, two famous so-called Voodoo queens from the nineteenth century, Marie Christine sees its eponymous character telling her story from a New Orleans prison in 1899. It is not a story that is easy to tell or hear, and LaChiusa was up to the challenge of writing a score that reflected the complexity and intensity of the tale.

Following a few workshops over more than three years, Marie Christine premiered in the final season of the twentieth century. Running for only 42 performances, the show received a mixed-negative reception from the press and its audience. Nonetheless, it was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Book and Best Original Score – missing out on a nomination for Best Musical in the year that Contact, which was a dance show and decidedly not a musical, took home the big prize.

Today, on the 23rd anniversary of the show’s Broadway opening, it is clear that Marie Christine is a challenging and layered musical. It’s not perfect; how many musicals are? It’s also a difficult musical to stage. The ever-encircling darkness of the piece requires an epic romance to be established as a counterbalance to the show’s relentless pursuit tragedy. If the passion between Marie and Dante doesn’t land, neither does the show. The action develops slowly, requiring a keen sense of what’s beneath the text and an understanding of how to translate this into imagery on stage. Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore the extent to which the original production met these challenges – join us for five weeks of what is sure to be a fascinating discussion!

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