Paint On Thick In Long Wharf's Musical 'My Paris'

The brush strokes are broad in “My Paris,” the predictable bio-tuner of Belle Epoque artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, now premiering at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn. The chansons francaises by legendary singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour — with nuanced English lyrics and a savvy musical adaptation by Jason Robert Brown — gives the musical a real taste of Gaul-on-the-Rialto, but this paint-by-numbers show need more than musical elan. Though it’s sumptuously produced and cleverly staged, the musical itself isn’t as flavorful as Aznavour’s music, or as the artist’s own renderings of the colorful bohemian nightlife and its inhabitants of rogues, dreamers and outsiders.

Several songs are drawn from the short-lived 2000 London musical “Lautrec,” with a score by Aznavour, but there are also plenty of new ones from the almost 92-year-old singer-songwriter. The music, performed by a four-piece, on-stage ensemble, is the most appealing aspect of this chamber production, with haunting refrains, introspective lyrics and bittersweet undercurrents of hope, regret and longing.

After a predictable place-setter opener (“Paris!”), Alfred Uhry’s script traces this well-worn biographical roadmap in flashback, following the stunted young aristocrat Henri (Bobby Steggert) as he breaks free of his dominating dad (Tom Hewitt) and possessive-but-supportive Maman (Donna English) and finds his place as a young artist in Paris.

He soon finds a trio of interchangeable art-school buds (John Riddle, Josh Grisetti, Andrew Mueller) who introduce him to the seedy side of town. There he finds “a world as ridiculous as I am” and falls in love with Montmartre’s intoxicating brew of vibrancy, sex, and especially the lure of absinthe, which is nicely embodied by a secuctive Green Fairy (Erica Sweany).