The current La Jolla Playhouse production on the boards at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre, is not a book musical, nor is it a typical musical in any shape or form that you have seen before. It defies categorization all together. It’s more of an avantgarde spectacle that combines the mediums of: dance, song, aerobatics, onstage interactive robotics, and a series of stage lighting elements, like “black lighting” (as used in the old time spooky rides at amusement parks), so that when they all come together, they become an electrified visual feast for the eyes.
The La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) and its artistic director Christopher Ashley have a most successful track record of sending their productions off to Broadway to win Best Play Tony’s – the last being Ashley’s “Memphis” in 2010.
This is the 21st century, and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is designed for younger audiences who really dig the Internet, video games, and Blackberry phones along with the many and various “apps” as a way of connecting or communicating and/or learning. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”, is definitely not your father or grandfather’s musical. It’s the brainchild of LJP’s respected former artistic director for over twenty years, Des McAnuff (a 20th Century man). McAnuff and Wayne Coyne wrote the story and then recruited The Flaming Lips to write the music and lyrics. McAnuff is the production’s director and its inspiration.
The story, set in a time somewhere in the ambiguous past on another planet, is a very simplistic tale of Yoshimi (Kimiko Glenn), a young woman who is engaged in a battle of survival, and the war taking place is within her body. It seems a rare blood disease has invaded and captured her body, neutralizing her biological self-defense/warrior mechanisms. Life in the here and now, or in the future, is a finite journey. No matter how many times we defeat the enemy or the disease within our bodies during that journey, any victories we experience are mostly pyrrhic and merely postpone the inevitable (even TV’s Dr. Gregory House couldn’t save Yoshimi, no matter how hard they both tried). She has, however, emotional help in her fight from her ex-boyfriend Booker (Nik Walker) and her current beau Ben (Paul Nolan) but neither of them or the medical team can alter the outcome.
The appeal of the production lies in its individual parts. The production values the audience gets to experience (and then to ponder as to how did they do that?) which include robots flying about the stage, a ton of talented dancers moving in syncopated rhythms to the music of The Flaming Lips, to an overall explosion of lights and actor/dancers; resulting in a kaleidoscope of sight, sound, and movement – which so enthralls the younger set these days. Alas, the love story is secondary. Special effects and multi-media elements trump the libretto, thus winning the day. And that’s what drives this production.
The principals: Kimiko Glenn, Paul Nolan, and Nik Walker, lead a very hard-working cast of twenty-seven performers. McAnuff’s creative team led by Scenic Designer Robert Brill and Choreographer Bradley Rapier along with Music Director Ron Melrose lend strong support, and the entire production is complimented by the costumes of Paul Tazewell, and the critical lighting design of Michael Walton. Sound Designer Steve Canyon Kennedy supplies another key element.
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” may not be my favorite style and format for a musical, but one cannot deny the passion, talent and energy of the performers who are working very hard to make it an evening in the theatre to remember.
The production runs through December 16, 2012.