Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" would seem a daunting project for the stage, let alone conceiving it as a musical. However, adapter Richard Nelson has already succeeded with the musical "James Joyce's The Dead"; this is a logical next step. Along with his collaborator, composer-lyricist Ricky Ian Gordon, Nelson has also limited himself solely to the "Albertine" sections of the novel, a manageable selection.
Using a Thomas Lynch setting that represents a theatre inside of a Paris apartment, 1919, the musical becomes the private entertainment of "The Narrator," played by Brent Carver. We, his invited guests, are offered his memories of 17-year-old Marcel's ill-fated love for a young girl, Albertine. This narrator, who is the older Marcel and thus a character in his own story, is also the songwriter whose work we are hearing.
Directed by Nelson, with choreography by Sean Curran and musical direction by Charles Prince, "My Life with Albertine" is charming, stylish, sophisticated, and magical. If the show has a weakness, it is that Nelson and Gordon's lyrics do not sound the least bit French. However, the lush score, with its accordion accompaniment, its operetta sound, and its Satie-like motifs, does have a fin-de-siecle feeling to it.
Carver is superb as the narrator, both in his subtlety and his stylized gestures. Kelli O'Hara, "Susan" in last season's "Sweet Smell of Success," is both beautiful and mysterious as the different Albertines of Marcel's fevered imagination. As the younger Marcel, Chad Kimball suggests the callowness of awkward youth in this coming-of-age story. He and Carver have some fascinating duets, like "The Different Albertines" and "But What I Say." Best of all is Emily Skinner as a lesbian cabaret singer, Mlle. Lea, who adds to the sexual ambiguity of Proust's Parisian decadence.