“She is bold; she is someone who devoured life in a way that I wish I could emulate,” Carson Kreitzer says of Tamara de Lempicka, the late Polish-born painter who is the central figure in “Lempicka,” a musical that will take the stage at La Jolla Playhouse beginning Tuesday, June 14.
Kreitzer originated the concept and wrote the book and lyrics for “Lempicka.” Matt Gould co-wrote the book and wrote the music, Raja Feather Kelly is the choreographer and Rachel Chavkin directs.
Eden Espinosa, who played de Lempicka in the musical’s 2018 world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, will take on the role again in La Jolla. Espinosa also is known for starring in Broadway’s “Wicked” and The Old Globe’s “Rain” and “The Gardens of Anuncia.”
The musical’s first single, “Woman Is,” sung by Espinosa, is out and can be heard at lempicka.lnk.to/musical.
De Lempicka, born in 1898, fled the Russian Revolution and began painting in Paris. She fled during World War II to escape the German invasion and went to Los Angeles. She died in 1980 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
“There is so much I love about her,” said Kreitzer, who is based in Minneapolis. “I love her hunger for so many things, for beauty, for love.”
The show is “the first enormous musical I have ever had the great joy to work on,” Kreitzer said.
“I’ve been a playwright for a long time. I’ve spent my life as a playwright bringing to the stage stories of women I wish I had known about growing up.”
The women she writes about are “iconoclasts — people banging down the doors so we could walk through them.”
“I love stories of women who do not behave, who refuse to take their role as the boundaries of their existence,” Kreitzer said. “I’m often drawn to women who want to be treated as people when the world has trouble seeing them as anything but women.”
De Lempicka “is a huge inspiration for me in that sense,” Kreitzer said. “I want people to know her. I want people to know she is here. And she painted this extraordinary work.”
Kreitzer said she learned of de Lempicka through a friend and “dove in headfirst,” deviating from her usual play format. Because of “the epic nature of her life, this felt like it had to be a musical.”
The show “verges on this delicious kind of greed that women are so often not allowed,” Kreitzer said. “We’re not permitted to feed ourselves. We’re trained to be polite and take small bites and let everyone else go first and be pretty and quiet.”
Kreitzer said she was most inspired by the way de Lempicka “became herself through this crucible of struggle, and if not for calamity and … revolution and having to flee her homeland and be a refugee and start again … she would not have become a painter or … the artist that she became.”
Through writing “Lempicka,” Kreitzer met Gould and says she “can’t imagine the trajectory of my life” had she not met him.
Kreitzer and Gould have been working on the project for more than a decade. Kreitzer said the musical was intended to have its West Coast premiere in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic paused production for two years.
“We were one week from getting on planes to come [to La Jolla] when the world shut down,” she said.
Having de Lempicka come to life onstage now, coinciding with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “the piece has felt more and more relevant in different ways politically,” Kreitzer said.
During rehearsals as refugees have been fleeing Ukraine, lines from the musical “brought tears to my eyes because I had not thought of them this way,” she said.
Kreitzer said she’s excited to see the show “come into shape and live in three dimensions in a way that we have never gotten to see it before.”
The play went through “extensive rewrites over the pandemic,” she added. “This feels like the most concentrated and true version of this musical that we’ve ever had.”
When: Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, July 24
Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive
Tickets and information: lajollaplayhouse.org