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Claude Monet on Broadway

A musical about the life of the French impressionist painter is currently in production. An extract was presented in New York on February 5, 2018, and the show is set to preview this fall.

Claude Monet was 60 in 1901. The pioneer of Impressionism was living in Giverny, in the Eure département, where he continued his series of paintings of the River Thames in London. Another of his works, The Waterlily Pond, had already been met with critical acclaim while exhibited in France and the United States. This is the period in which begins Monet, the musical written by Carmel Owen (music and lyrics) and Joan Ross Sorkin (book). The show opens in a Parisian courtroom, where the old painter is demanding the return of a canvas painted in Le Have 37 years before, and recently discovered in the basement of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

This painting, which could well be The Jetty at Le Havre or Fishing Boats Leaving the Harbor, acts as the central theme for the show’s two acts and 26 songs. “That’s how the journey begins,” says Joan Ross Sorkin. “Everyone knows Monet became famous, but it’s how he got there that interests us!” The narration is punctuated by the defining moments in the painter’s life, such as his first encounter with Renoir and Degas at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, his first open-air paintings, the triple role of muse, mistress, and wife played by Camille Doncieux, the exhibition of 1874 and the birth of the term “impressionist,” and the artist’s years of poverty in Argenteuil.

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Gregg Mills is Monet and Mamie Parris is Camille, the painter’s model, muse, and wife. © Whitney Browne

The musical is “inspired by the life of Claude Monet.” The script and lyrics were written based on books and museum visits, but certain biographical elements were tweaked or invented during the creative process. The painting of Impression, Sunrise (1872) appears before The Women in the Green Dress (1866), for example. The character Elise is based on Marie-Jeanne Lecadre, Monet’s aunt who encouraged him in his artistic career. However, the Minister Girard is fictional. As a representative of Napoleon III, he symbolizes the government’s dominance over the Salon. “Every story needs conflict, drama, and surprise to be working effectively on stage,” says the librettist, while also assuring that “most of the elements are absolutely true.”

A Few Dates for Fall 2018

The first read-through took place in 2014 and was fine-tuned during a residence at the CAP21 studio in New York, and will soon be put into production. The two playwrights hope to reach an agreement with a producer “in the next couple weeks.” He will be tasked with finalizing the show and finding the necessary budget. A total of 100,000 dollars will pay for rehearsals with nine professional actors and an orchestra, as well as hiring a stage designer and a lighting designer capable of reflecting the emotion of the master’s paintings on stage.

A first version of the musical should be presented in New York this fall. The next step will be to convince a theater to bring in the show for a series of dates. “The music and the lyrics are ready. Now we just need to perfect the stage design and decor,” says Carmel Owen. “It takes a long time to get such a major project on the boards. It’s like watching a child grow up!”

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