Six Pictures Of Lee Miller

The Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Thursday 14 July 2005


Review by Emma Shane

© July 2005


A few months ago, while watching the excellent BBC 4 series on the history of Broadway Musicals, feeling during the last episode, at the way creation of new musicals has changed. I couldn’t help thinking “I wish a producer could just get a team together to create a musical, leave them to get on with it, and stage the end result, like they did in the good old days, with out endless work shopping, try-outs, and attempting to be the next block-buster.” Imagine my surprise and delight on opening the latest issue of ‘Spotlight On Musicals’(magazine of The Stage Musicals Appreciation Society) to find that is exactly what The Chichester Festival Theatre are doing. I knew they were putting on a new musical about the photographer Lee Miller, but I didn’t know they had commissioned in that good old way. Now in that situation, besides a budget and a deadline, it good sense to hire a creative team who are good enough to rise to the challenge, and daring enough to make the most of the opportunity. Chichester has given this chance to playwright Edward Kemp and composer Jason Carr. I was not too familiar with Kemp’s work. But I liked what I had heard so far of Carr’s, at least where his own compositions are concerned. Some of his arrangements of other people’s work have a tendency to be rather bizarre. They’re quite innovative, but one is sometimes left wondering what the songwriters themselves would have thought of them. All I had heard so far of Carr’s song writing was: one complete musical (The Water Babies, at Chichester two years ago, his composer compilation CD Listen Up! and one other “trunk” song that had found its way into a cabaret act three years ago); so I was still a little apprehensive wondering whether I’d actually enjoy witnessing this new show.

                This is going to be one of my reviews, where it is appropriate to say: if you were not able to get to see this show then this may give you some idea of what it was like, if you did see it then this may aid your memory of it, finally if you are contemplating seeing it and don’t want a plot spoiler then please skip the bulk of this but just read the last three paragraphs.

The show opens with five strong orchestra playing the Prologue. There is something sparky about it. A welcome liveliness that seems to be characteristic of Carr’s instrumental pieces (at least the ones I’ve heard). Into Picture One - Poughkeepsie, New York State 1923. Lee or rather Lee Lee as she was then known, full name Elizabeth, aged about 16. First on stage Leading Lady Anna Francolini in the title role, in a shirt and dungarees, she leans against a table centre stage, not speaking. Swiftly followed by Lee’s parents Theodore and Florence played by Brendan O’Hea and Beverly Klein. A doctor, played by Teddy Kempner, is just leaving. It is implied, though never explicitly stated, that Elizabeth has contracted some kind of venereal disease, a Navel Rating played by Gary Milner appears in front of her. This sets the tone for the whole piece. It is very subtle, and the audience is going to have to work hard to understand and ‘get it’. Perhaps to take his daughter’s mind off the disease (fortunately been caught early on), Theodore shows Lee Lee “the latest thing from Europe Stereoscopic Camera. This first number is grabbing. Carr’s Porteresque lyrics fit his melody beautifully. Unfortunately in an age of Lloyd-Webber & Rice musicals where a soundtrack album was always released first, pop-group-back-catalogue shows, revivals, and film-musical adaptations theatre audiences are apt to forget what it was like to hear good new music afresh for the very first time in a theatre; It takes a while for the audience to remember how closely it needs to pay attention to the songs in order to appreciate them fully. On with the plot, Lee Lee, removes her dungarees and shirt (in a careful manner reminiscent of Anna Francolini’s performance in the title role in The Ballad Of Little Jo); poses in her undergarments, and takes the opportunity of helping Theodore develop the picture, to tell him of some difficulties with regards to schooling; however, photography is going to be her future. Sitting on a trunk staring at the image she sings Lee. She won’t have any other diminutive of her name, not even Lee Lee, henceforth she will be known as Lee Miller. This was a lovely song for Anna Francolini to sing. Musically it was good, it suited her voice well, and had a delightful lyric running cleverly through all the diminutives of Elizabeth.


With the leading lady donning a brown coat/dress, the action shifts to Picture Two - Paris, France 1929-35. Starting with Lee looking for Man Ray, played by Teddy Kempner (dressed in a blue boiler-suit and off-white coat), to whom she has a letter of introduction. Francolini brilliantly delivers a good line of Kemp’s, Lee says she only knows about two things, one is photography, and the other she doesn’t want to mention (clearly implying sex). This is a beautifully subtle script. Man Ray is not interested in taking her on as a photographic student, or even a model, until she mentions that she dated Charlie Chaplin, then she becomes interesting to all the people she meets, but she just wants to meet Picasso, The Artist Of The Day. This is one of the biggest, wittiest, funniest production numbers in the show. In fact it is such a long one it could almost get tedious, but doesn’t because although quite repetitive in parts, Carr has carefully incorporated enough changes to keep it fresh and surprising. The number covers an unspecified period of time in Paris during which she meets: Man Ray, a poet named Eluard, writer (later turned film-maker) Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, and her companion Alice B Toklas, played by Teddy Kempner, Gary Milner, Mark Meadows, Beverley Klein and Anna Lowe respectively. Eluard and Cocteau both enter, in separate verses, on bicycles, and cycle round the stage before putting their bikes in the wings, while Stein enters sitting on a kind of rickshaw affair, pushed by Toklas. Each of the three main characters introduced in this number have their own special verses, summarising them. There are also some common refrains. Kempner, sometimes joined by others, sings “And this is Lee, the girl who dated Chaplin”, while Francolini chipping in “You mean to say you know Picasso too.” at which the others will invariably reply that everybody knows Picasso, the artiste of the day. The number, perhaps predictably, concludes with the entrance of Pablo Picasso, played by Brendan O’Hea. Musically it is very pleasant, and lyrically awfully clever, the way Carr has worked specific characteristics of the characters into the verses. It is followed by one of Carr’s more poignant numbers, What Is An Artiste ?, sung by O’Hea as Picasso. Although in the context of the musical for which it is written he is referring to visual artistes such as painters and photographers, it seems to me that this is one of the numbers in the show that might very well work out of context; in such a case the artiste could refer not just to visual artistes, but also writers, composers, and even performance artistes too; what is an artiste indeed? On with the plot, in Man Ray’s studio, in spite of the distractions from Aziz Eloui Bey, an Egyptian businessman played Melvin Whitfield, Man Ray is trying to photograph Aziz’s wife Nimet Eloui Bey, played by Anna Lowe (who makes a good job of the “foreign” accent). Lee, by now Man Ray’s lover, arrives, in time to assist, there is clearly something going on between her an Aziz. Once Aziz and Nimet depart, Man Ray and Lee develop the pictures, and quarrel, in the dark; Lee announces she has rented her own studio, now that she is beginning to get her own commissions, she’s none too happy about them being together all the time, Looking At You. This number was pleasant enough and unlike so much modern music, certainly did not abuse ones ears, however this duet seemed to me one of the least memorable numbers in the show. But, that may just be because so many of the other numbers did stand out, and with it being such a very new score, one is not at all familiar with it; sometimes one really has to hear a song a few times, before it sinks into consciousness.  Two things are memorable about the number. The first is Francolini playing seductively with her clothing, a pale-blue skirt and easily removable top. The number also works dramatically. Lee has been taking photographs at a hospital, and brought Man Ray back a present (in a bucket covered by a cloth), a severed breast, which she “saved from the furnace”, Francolini delivered that line with delicious enthusiasm. At the height of their quarrel, Lee accidentally (or perhaps not) switches on a light, ruining the picture they are trying to develop, Man Ray jealously thinks it is a ploy to get Aziz to return. But they find the resulting picture is not ruined, they have created something new in photographic art, the solarized photograph. Meanwhile Poet and Writer Jean Cocteau ventures into directing films, with a particularly witty piece of writing from Kemp, about having hired a very intelligent cameraman. He wrote to all the cameramen in Paris, and this was the only one who replied. Cocteau, Stein, Aziz, Tocklas, and, Eluard go into The Blood Of A Poet. Unfortunately Cocteau says, he can’t abide actors, and so for his new surreal film, he is going to use people who are not primarily actors. There are film directors around today who would share his point of view here (and since the demise of ‘closed shop’ such directors have the freedom to do as they wish, assuming they can get funding for their film). In Cocteau’s case he has a problem casting as a statue (that comes to life). Nimet refuses, though he wasn’t going to ask her. The solution, obvious to most of them, is Lee. The filming is represented by a dance number (no singing) Le Boeuf sur le Toit. Francolini, in another pale blue outfit, with some kind of shawl, walks about on chairs, which various members of the company keep moving around the stage. I suppose its kind of surreal. At the end of the number several members of the cast converse about the film. It’s all change, with Francolini striding onto an empty stage asking Has Anybody Seen Man Ray? Quite a memorable number, witty, exciting, and generally the kind of thing one would expect a really good musical theatre songwriter to produce. Yes Jason Carr has given Anna Francolini a good song to sing, and she, being the wonderful singing actress that she is, does it full justice. The number is made even more memorable by the performance of Kempner, as Man Ray, clearly jealous of Lee having other lovers, joining her on stage, brandishing a pistol, he acted so well, one could almost have thought he joined in even though (at least according to the programme) he didn’t. There then arrives on the scene a newcomer, but one whom who knows anything about Lee Miller, will know is important, in some ways you might call him the romantic lead. Enter Brendan O’Hea in his final character, Roland Penrose. He has come to buy a painting from Picasso, a portrait of Lee, he has fallen in love with. Kemp has written a nice little subtle dramatic scene, during which the characters Roland and Lee discuss the portrait; he probably knows it’s her but doesn’t say so, and neither does she. But at present that relationship is merely a diversion. On with the plot, Lee decides to leave Man Ray, for Aziz (who is divorcing Nimet). At which point we have what might be some kind of barbershop trio Now That You Are Mine, sung by three of Lee’s lovers, Man Ray, Aziz, and of course Penrose.


Picture Three - Cairo Egypt, 1938 finds Lee and Aziz unhappily married. He would willingly divorce her if she could find someone else. Roland arrives for a visit, and Lee takes great delight in organising what he is going to do, Pictures Of Egypt. This number, was very nicely sung by Francolini, and Carr’s music and lyrics were pleasant and enjoyable. Some members of the audience clearly found it quite captivating. Certainly a satisfactory number to end the act on. Actually they end with a burst of sound that is clearly meant to symbolise the outbreak of war (World War Two), so we all know where the second act is heading, or do we?


Act Two opens with Picture Four - London 1942. The Entr’acte (Pictures Of Cynthia) finds Lee, a fashion photographer for British Vogue, in The Natural History Museum photographing a model,Cynthia, played by Anna Lowe. It’s not quite explained how she got away from Egypt and Aziz. Her current lover, David Scherman, a photojournalist, played by Mark Meadows, is on leave, with little time to spare. He tells her about photographing bombing raids, Death In The Clouds. As a lyricist Carr must have been doing his homework to come up with this! It’s a song that might just work out of the context of the show, with a brief explanation that the character singing it is a World War Two photojournalist. Meadows sings with a lot of feeling, and certainly puts it across well, he really acts the song out. Scherman suggests to Lee she should become a photojournalist too. But how can she when Britain doesn’t allow women anywhere near the front line? Lee remembers, on her passport she is still an American. Penrose, a Captain in a camouflage division (the script makes out it is what he is best suited ton) also on leave turns up at the museum; and, while Lee helps Cynthia change, they are joined by Audrey Withers, the editor of British Vogue, played by Beverley Klein, who is wondering how to make the magazine more relevant in wartime. Scherman suggests they have their own war correspondent, the obvious candidate being Lee. After all she loves trying to get into places she’s not supposed to be in. Kemp has given Meadows and Klein some great lines, which they do justice to. It becomes obvious that Francolini has been off stage changing her costume for the next scene.


Picture Northern Europe 1944-5 finds Lee being initiated into the army by Major Spiros and Sergeant Magee of the US Army Civil Affairs played by Melvin Whitfield and Gary Milner respectively, along with Scherman, Mrs Miller. This is one of Carr’s bounciest and catchiest songs; only title doesn’t seem to quite describe it. The song is largely about how there’s no women on the front line, “because the women at the front stay safely at the back”. Although it is a number sung to and with a woman photojournalist, In many ways it sums up the position of woman in various sectors of the forces during World War Two, such as: Auxiliary Transport Air, and, medical divisions, as well as journalists. It could probably work very well in a review or concert outside of the specific context of the musical for which it is written, as long as the time-period in which it is set is explained. It’s a strikingly brilliant musical number; the kind of well written tune all to often lacking in new musicals today. Just as Lee gets to supposedly safe St Malo, there is an air raid. Meanwhile back in Britain, Audrey is exclaiming (to Roland) over the photographs and reports Lee has been sending back, The Defining Moment. She’s good at getting where she’s not supposed to be. Then Audrey learns that Lee has got herself arrested, she was caught trying to photograph a tank battle! Back at the front, Lee, distinctly board, under ‘House Arrest’, welcomes a visit from Dave, and even more Roland. She offers them some sort of liquor kept in a petrol drum!  Spiros turns up with the news, she’s released, they need her for a job, but he reminds her of her position, with a reprise of Mrs Miller. In Cologne the four of them encounter a German restaurant owner, who claims not to be a Nazi. Kemp uses the scene to make some very telling comments about both war, and dictatorship regimes. Carr follows this up musically with a song written for Klein, in her Audrey Withers guise, Brave New World. This is one of the most poignant songs I have ever heard. Both musically and lyrically it’s beautiful and moving. It really gets to me. It is so much the feeling of The Allies in 1945 “We won’t make the mistakes of Versailles” It is a moving song full or peace and hope, but the poignancy comes from knowing with hindsight that the world has not grown so kind. I knew Carr was a fine songwriter, but I didn’t know he could write something so beautifully heart rendering as this. It is quite extraordinary; and a song which I really hope will have a life outside of the show; for my goodness, does it deserves it. My memory actually thought this next bit of scene came before Brave New World, but the programme says it comes after; Anyway, we come at last to a scene representing one of the best known moments in Lee Miller’s life. Scherman’s famous photograph of her in Hitler’s bathtub in Munich. I surmise that the scene itself takes place shortly after that moment. Scherman is asking her the hurry up as the rest of them could do with a scrub up too. Spiros and Magee are fascinated by the flat and Hitler’s possessions. The scene concludes with Lee finally emerging, wearing a dressing gown with the initials AH on it, what a subtle little touch; Alone on the stage, looking at the back projected portrait of the Furher, Francolini wraps her lovely voice around A Portrait of A H. This too is a moving number, and I couldn’t help noticing what I think was a passing reference to Richard Wagner in one of the lyrics?


Picture Six - Farely Farm, Muggles Green. Sussex 1953 opens with a surprise! Dark stage, suddenly up in one corner of the auditorium above an aisle a trapeze it lit up, on it is Anna Lowe in her finale character. Ariane, a circus performer, who is Looking For A Bear. A big finale production number, during which Lowe clambers over the back of the auditorium around the audience, which has nothing today with the plot, As Audrey Withers asks (in an attempted by Kemp to give the number some relevance) “Yes but why in Sussex?” Which got a huge laugh, because of course not only has the plot shifted to Sussex, but we are actually in that particular county. This is the kind of thing that happens in musicals, or at least it used to. The number is included for no reason other than that The Composer wanted it put in. And when composers really want a particular number included, it is as well for the book-writer to find a means of doing so, because otherwise you end up with homeless song that the composer will then spend the next n years trying to find a home for, so as to be able to forget about it - remember the saga Irving Berlin’s Mr Monotony? Thus if Carr wants a song about Looking For A Bear shoved in then why not? In many ways this extraordinary number rather sums up the spirit of the whole show. Carr and Kemp have been given a good deal of freedom to express themselves, and they’ve made the most of it. Besides Ariane and Audrey, also present are: Man Ray, Roland Penrose (by now Lee’s husband), and, David Scherman. All of them are intermittently involved with assisting with the coo, Lee. Roland and Ariane go off to inspect a bonfire and look for a cauliflower respectively, together. Man Ray, despite being Jewish, gets asked to paint a lobster. David finds himself helping Lee to clear an old trunk out of her way. It contains old photographic equipment, and stuff they picked up in Europe in 1944-45. At this point music has been underscoring the scene, but now it dies away with a last string note, that just reminded me of two things (one of them being Lloyd-Webber’s With One Look, only it is musically rather superior to that song; the other being Nicholas Bloomfield’s Come To Me - Safe In My Arms - the last note of that was also symbolic, in his case a fox killed by the hounds). Here in Sussex, after this last note of Carr’s there is no more music. It ends because Lee has put her camera away. She is more a definition of an alcoholic than ever, does not know how to get her life back together, and she doesn’t want her head shrunk. She thought perhaps clearing the trunk would help, but doesn’t know why. However, there is still some dialogue to get through. Lee eventfully agrees to take the photographs for a book on Picasso. The show ends with her just sitting on the trunk staring out at the audience, much like she did at the beginning. In fact for such a subtle sophisticated piece of theatre, this last pose seems to have been held for took short a time, it could have gone on a bit longer. All too soon the houselights came up, and the rest of the cast come on to take their bows.


This is a fine new contribution to the world of music theatre, and a piece which surely deserves a wider audience, although not too wide. I think it would be nice if the piece could be seen elsewhere, but let’s not make the mistake (they made with Eurovision - which also had a score by Carr) of trying to put it on in a big West End theatre. It is not a mass crowd-puller block buster type of Musical, but then it is clearly not meant to be. This is a sophisticated piece of music theatre, more in style of a Stephen Sondheim or possibly Kurt Weill piece. It would probably be best suited to a strictly limited run (with the kind of small budget associated with that) perhaps in one of the smaller West End Theatres, such as The Fortune Theatre or the Donmar Warehouse. It would be even better suited to one of the better fringe venues such as The Orange Tree (in Richmond Surrey), The Hampstead Theatre (which has recently seen a Chichester transfer play, Three Women And A Piano Tuner - that also has music by Carr); and of course the late lamented Bridewell Theatre (in the days when it had a proper professional Theatre company, well accustomed to Sondheim and other works of sophisticated music theatre, and home to two of Francolini’s great triumphs) would have been ideal. I would urge anyone running a theatre in the kind of vein mentioned above to consider this interesting, innovative and very well written new musical.

                Carr and Kemp have done a splendid job, the lyrics and score sparkle as the perfect accompaniment to a witty script and versa vice. The talented cast of seven have some fine material to work with, and they do it full justice. Gary Milner and Melvin Whitfield provide good support. Anna Lowe manages to amaze us with her versatility, in four roles, ending up on the trapeze Looking For A Bear. Brendan O’Hea and Mark Meadows play their various roles so well that without reading the programme one would have a hard job recognising them in their different guises. Beverly Klein acts Kemp’s lines with perfect aplomb, and sings Carr’s songs brilliantly, especially Brave New World, which is incredibly moving. Like Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim before him, Jason Carr seems to have a knack for writing terrific scores for musical theatre leading ladies to sing (his last musical at Chichester, The Water Babies two years ago, surely gave Louise Gold one of her greatest roles). So a show written by a songwriter like that, needs to have a leading lady who can do it justice. And this show has one such in the form of Anna Francolini. She acts Kemp’s script with a brilliance like that of her performance in The Ballad Of Little Jo, and there are distinct similarities with the role she is performing. However the part of Lee Miller is better than Jo Monahan, not least because the score is rather superior. Yes Sarah Schlesinger and Mike Read did a passable job with the latter. But as a songwriter Carr is, well, something special. Needless to say, the orchestra of five do Carr’s score, and his own orchestrations, justice, as one would expect at The Chichester Festival Theatre. The only reason for the songs not to quite catch in ones mind is that we are hearing them for the first time. Some of them certainly sounded so good to me that I think they deserve a wider audience perhaps via use in Gala’s, cabaret, revue, or of course on an album (I feel this is particularly true of: What Is An Artiste?, Brave New World, Mrs Miller, and, Looking For A Bear, but it might well be true of: Stereoscopic Camera, Lee, Pictures of Egypt, Death In The Clouds, and, Portrait Of A.H.- In other words most of the score).

                But the very best thing of all about this musical is its carefree almost throwaway spirit. It goes where it’s writers feel like taking it, never mind where the audience think it should go. Far too many contemporary musicals try to impress the audience with spectacle. This piece doesn’t do that. It simply concentrates on being very good; A well-written and well-performed piece of sophisticated new music theatre. If the musical is to continue to grow as an art form, and not become merely bland mass entertainment, then we need more theatre’s to follow the example of Chichester, in commissioning a new piece in the good old fashioned way, hiring a writing team they trust, and then giving them a degree of freedom to create their own innovative work of art the best way they can. And with this show, Six Pictures Of Lee Miller, that is exactly what those accomplished music theatre writers Jason Carr and Edward Kemp (surely a Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman kind of team in the making) have done. Their new creation deserves to take a place in music theatre history, and I sincerely hope it does. If you regard yourself as a sophisticated theatre-goer, and you get the chance to see this piece, then I think it is worth seeing. It is a wonderful chance to see something really fresh and yet very good in the medium for which it is intended, the theatre.





Off Site Links:

The Chichester Festival Theatre’s Official Website:


Composer Jason Carr’s Official Website:


Script Writer Edward Kemp’s Official Website:


The Lee MillerTM Archive, Official Website:


To read my review of another Jason Carr musical at Chichester, The Water Babies, please click here.





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