La Jolla Playhouse Opens 2022-2023 Season with Lempicka

A Wonderful and Melodic Piece Inspired by the Complex Artist Tamara de Lempicka   

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Eden Espinosa as “Tamara de Lempicka” with cast members (l-r) Devin L. Roberts, Joey Taranto and Morgan Nicholas Scott in La Jolla Playhouse’s
production of LEMPICKA; photo by Matthew Murphy.
It is not easy to create a theatrical piece about a non-fictional character. I believe it is a nice challenge to take upon and use it to tell that person's story and fill people in on something they would not know of otherwise. Or -sort of- not know otherwise. Lempicka, La Jolla Playhouse's season opener did a pretty good job in my eyes telling the story of art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. A Polish woman living in St. Petersburg married Tadeusz Łempicki, a prominent lawyer who got arrested during the Russian revolution. Lempicka negotiated his release by -sadly- granting favors to the Swedish consul. I was aware of Tamara Lempicka and her round shapes, big-scale type paintings along with the women she painted and how celebrities like Madonna, Jack Nicholson, and Barbra Streisand were fascinated with her paintings, but that was it. That is the wonder of theatre and storytelling and in the Playhouse's case, breaking into song. Eden Espinosa plays the role of Tamara de Lempicka and gosh darn it! the characterization is on point. Anita Yavich's 1920's style costume design is beautiful and truly adds to the piece also taking inspiration from some of Lempicka's paintings to dress the characters like the painter's daughter Kizette (Jordan Tyson) who in one of the scenes wore a light gray dress with white stockings and black shoes like the painting titled Kizette au Balcon . I absolutely love catching details like that. It makes you appreciate the artist's work even more. Riccardo Hernandez's scenic design includes a moving circular platform that the actors hop on and off of, while singing, acting, and dancing, gifting the audience with various very aesthetic frames along with Bradley King's lighting design. At times Peter Nigrini's projection designs with flashes of Lempicka's paintings including the Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, hence the green of the artwork and the emerald bracelet referenced in the musical as well as in the song Stay sung beautifully by Amber Iman.

Lempicka is a complex piece with many moving parts that take their space and their time to breathe and, that is one of its qualities guided by Rachel Chavkin's tender but mighty direction. I mean, The Great Comet and Hadestown? Tony Award winner, hello? This woman is magic as is her directing style dashed with a tad of magic realism. 

Another quality of the piece is a different type of blooming for Eden Espinosa. I saw a strong and assertive performer focused but having fun too and it was such a joy. The piece is complex because the story of the artist is complex. A woman artist that ran her own studio, painted nude women, and discovered her attraction to women, all during the 1920s?? Tough. Again, taking its time to breathe, the story guides the audience through the couple's exit from St. Patesburg and voyage to Paris, how Tamara loved to paint, found a studio, and a teacher (George Abud as Marinetti)  to continue to grow and find how to make money through her art and patron friends like the Baron (Victor E. Chan) and Baronness (Jacquelyn Ritz). Ritz and Chan are a great duo with wonderful quality. 

Amber Iman (on stage, center) and Eden Espinosa (far right) with the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s
production of LEMPICKA; photo by Rich Soublet II.

Rafaela (Amber Iman) a prostitute that sings in the local club run by Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson) and starts posing for Lempicka's paintings and they end up falling in love. Amber Iman is fantastic as Rafaela. The interpretation, the movement, the singing! with a raspy yet soft voice that perfectly articulated each note. And the rapport with Eden on stage is powerful. There is a scene between Rafaela and Kizette that is fire. Again handled meticulously and with care. At first, you could think that Kizette is a spoiled brat but in reality, what we are seeing is a hurt child that is not grasping what is happening with her parents drifting and her mother getting close to a woman. Just great storytelling.

Iman is scheduled to play Rafaela until July 10. It will be an interesting exercise to see Ximone Rose (Who also understudies the role of Lempicka) step in as Rafaela on July 12 until the end of the run. (If I have the opportunity to see it again I will update you!).

The story also touches upon a clandestine club for Lesbian lovers led by Solidor. A club that gets raided by the cops and of course they beat up the women. Natalie Joy Johnson is hot as Solidor. Sensual and sly.

I have to say, as an absolute and declared fan of The Band's Visit, it was exciting to see George Abud as Marinetti. A tough character that deep down is good but is so full of hurt and disappointment that those are the moving forces that come through. A precise portrayal by Abud that sometimes was not easy to watch and, that is a good thing. Andrew Samonsky as the painter's husband Tadeusz Lempicki is also a character that was hard to watch involving the male ego and selfishness at its best. Yet, I was left wanting more from Samonsky. (I loved him in Benny & Joon at The Globe btw).

Eden Espinosa “Tamara de Lempicka” and George Abud as “Marinetti” in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of LEMPICKA; photo by Matthew Murphy.
The original concept for the story as well as the book and Lyrics are by Carson Kreitzer who I think resolved it very well. The book is also by Matt Gould along with the music that as with every musical that is seeing the light for the first time, needs some work but there are songs that are almost perfect. Each of them tells little snippets of the story accompanied by a very catchy riff with oh's and uh's, sung and spoken word, wind instruments, special effects, echoes, the works! 

Lempicka is an amazing collective effort that shows hard work, talent, and feeling and it has a long way to go. I suggest you be in "the room where it happens" and not waste this wonderful opportunity that will be on stage until July 24. For more info go to 

If you still need a push, listen to the songs that have been released on Spotify. 

Other members of the creative team include Justin Stasiw, Sound Designer Remy Kurs, Music Supervisor; Cian McCarthy, Orchestrator; Peter Duchan, Script Consultant; Telsey + Company – Craig Burns CSA and Jacole Kitchen, Casting; and Cody Renard Richard, Stage Manager.

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