Being the self-styled primitive man of the French middle class, Paul Gauguin took great pleasure in shocking and awe-ing French society long before George W. Bush and his 2003 campaign in Iraq did. So how do humble members of the masses ease their creative anxieties? Why, they turn to the perfect combination of song, dance and drama, the musical. These tenets are precisely what makes what we believe is the first Gauguin musical to be produced – The Musical Paul Gauguin, produced by the Asian Story Theatre in California.

Now the first thing you should realise before buying a ticket for the musical is that you should not be adverse to boats or sea-sickness. The musical actually takes place in five separate venues to immerse the viewer in a journey as similar as possible to what Gauguin himself undertook – hence the inclusion of a Berkeley ferryboat in the San Diego Bay. The second thing you might be asking yourself is: what does the Asian Story Theatre have to do with Gauguin? According to the company’s website, the story of Gauguin was worthy of production because it is “a modern tale of multiculturalism and the social cost of creative freedom.” We’d tentatively agree with the idea of social cost for creative freedom, but we’re not sure about the idea of multiculturalism in so far that it was definitely more colonialism than equal treatment of the other. But we digress. The important biographical aspects to remember of Gauguin are that he did have an upbringing different from your stereotypical French Catholic.

Gauguin himself was one quarter Peruvian and grew up, until the age of seven, in Peru. According to biographers he found inspiration in the ancient traditions of his ancestors, sentiments which would later help him to make the move to the Caribbean. It was in the Caribbean, and particularly Tahiti, where Gauguin found the music that would help liberate his art. West African rhythms and the drums of Martinique fused with Gauguin and the part of him that was an avid amateur musician – he did, after all, travel there with guitars, a French horn, a mandolin and a full-sized harmonium. The musical itself reflects this alternative approach to life, incorporating a few non traditional musical elements. A multimedia project with text from Gauguin himself and contemporaries is included to recount his life, as well as Gauguin painting reproductions to illustrate his work. The musical score is also reflective of Gauguin’s life, with professional artists from Polynesian, Peruvian, Breton and Caribbean musical traditions contributing their talents.

The lyric, script and accompanying short book is written by Kent Lee Brisby, who examined primary documents written by Gauguin himself. The direct artist-to-musical connection is also maintained with the actor who plays Gauguin, Mario Torero, who himself has Peruvian ancestry. Finally, a wealth of groups including New Zealand-based Opetaia Foai and TINKU combine to contribute authentic Polynesian rifts. We’ve got our tickets already.