The La Jolla Playhouse has a successful track record of sending its musical productions to Broadway and has a penchant for winning Tony Awards in the process. “Memphis” (2010), for one, springs to mind; the Best Musical Tony-winner was brilliantly performed and brilliantly directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Chris Ashley.
However, I’m not quite sure that the current World Premiere production “Miss You Like Hell” will find Broadway producers bold enough to challenge the bias against Southern California-set musicals, especially one revolving around Latinos. It would be a pity for our East Coast theatrical cousins and their patrons to miss it, as well as those audiences in regional theatres across the country.
The world has been devolving into dangerous and uncertain times since the turn of the 21st Century. Instead of becoming more inclusive as a society, the world appears to be increasingly more interested in becoming rabidly isolationist, even nationalistic.
Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes, a 2008 Tony Winner for the musical “In the Heights” and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winner for her potent and powerful drama “Water by the Spoonful”. She has once again hit the nail on the proverbial head with her musical “Miss You Like Hell”, creatively and deftly directed by talented Lear deBessonet.
The leit-motif running through many of Ms. Hudes’ plays deal with loss and forgiveness. In the case of “Miss You like Hell”, it’s a poignant story of mother abandonment and daughter estrangement and the coming to grips with forgiveness, and how hard it is to resolve it.
Ms. deBessonet is fortunate to have the services of casting directors Kaitlin Shaw and Tara Rubin, who have assembled a terrific ensemble cast of solid actors/singer/dancers to bring this timeless story to life. This time, the story of troubled mother Beatriz, sensationally played by Daphne Rubin-Vega, and her daughter Olivia, wonderfully sung and portrayed by Krystina Alabado, is set against the backdrop of Latino culture which is rich in mysticism and the myths of earlier native ancestors and story tellers.
Additionally, the libretto has elements that are reminiscent of the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his style of ‘magical realism’ and shards of the poems of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In the hands of these two talented actors, it is very easy to become enchanted by the entire production, regardless of whether one has ever heard of Garcia Marquez or Neruda.
The musical informs the story that illuminates the culture wars now taking place, not only in America, but also in Europe and across the globe. Ensemble casts are the epitome of what musical productions are all about. These actors are there to enhance the performances of the principals, namely Ms. Rubin-Vega and Ms. Alabado. But these dedicated, talented performers also shine in individual performances and should be acknowledged.
In alphabetical order the ensemble cast includes: Cliff Bemis as Mo; Victor Chan as Castaway; Vanessa A. Jones as Lawyer/Waitress; David Patrick Kelly as Higgins; Julio Monge as Manuel; Cashae Monya as Pearl; Kurt Norby as Officer/Legal Clerk/A Guy at the Motel Desk; and Olivia Oguma as Mindy.
The creative team led by Ms. DeBessonet greatly benefits from the inventive set designs of Donyale Werle and the sparkling creative costume designs of Emilio Sosa that help sweep the audience along to the beats of ‘south of the border’ music and lyrics.
In addition to Ms. Hudes’ libretto and lyrics, and Erin McKeown’s music and lyrics, the choreography of Danny Mefford enlivens the stage action under the baton of music director Julie McBride, with sound design by Dan Moses Schreier.
This splendid production performs at the La Jolla Playhouse in the Mandell Weiss Theatre, through December 4, 2016. Don’t miss It!