It’s a musical fall in San Diego’s theater lineup, and big names are the big news. From a whimsical Broadway favorite to a melancholy reflection of American history to giant robots and contemporary indie rock music, these productions offer a theatre experience for just about every theatregoer’s taste.
Allegiance – A New American Musical
Allegiance at the Old Globe Theater stars George Takei.
Running now through Oct. 21, The Old Globe presents Allegiance – A New American Musical. This new production is an epic story of family, love and patriotism set during the Japanese-American internment of World War II. The star-studded cast includes Lea Solanga, winner of the 1990 Tony Award® for her role in Miss Saigon, and George Takei, the veteran actor best known for playing Dr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, based on the album by the Flaming Lips, debuts at the La Jolla Playhouse.
On November 6, the world-renowned La Jolla Playhouse will debut Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a new musical featuring a story by The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Playhouse Director Emeritus Des McAnuff (director of The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys). Based on the album of the same name by the indie rock band The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi tells the story of a young Japanese artist facing a battle for her life in a fantastical robot-world. This world-premiere production runs through December 16.
A classic childhood tale and Broadway smash hit comes to San Diego as Broadway/San Diego presents Peter Pan, Nov. 13-18. Peter Pan stars Cathy Rigby, the Olympic gymnast turned thespian, in the role that she made famous. Rigby’s high-flying theatrics will have everyone in the audience believing they will never grow up.
This is the inadvertent question asked by the latest La Jolla Playhouse production,Hands on a Hardbody. Based on a 1997 documentary about a group of Texans vying to outlast each other by placing one gloved hand on brand new Nissan truck in hopes of driving off with it, this new American musical engages the audience to ask themselves these questions: What you are willing to do for your dream? Would you stand under the searing Texas sun for days with nine other strangers? Endure sleep deprivation, hallucinations and numbness of limbs for a chance to drive off the lot in a brand new truck?
As I sat comfortably in the La Jolla Playhouse’s intimate Mandell Weiss Theater, I knew I wasn’t crazy enough to put myself through that kind of torment, which is what made the premise all the more intriguing. But an alluring premise does not a successful musical make. After all, how do you make a group of people standing around a truck come alive on stage? My curiosity peaked as the first character took the stage.
Creative force behind Hands on a Hardbody (L-R): Doug Wright, Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green and Benjamin Millepied.
The creative force behind Hands on a Hardbody consists of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Winning writer (and Texas native) Doug Wright, music composed by Trey Anastasia (founder of the band Phish), lyrics by Amanda Green (Broadway’s High Fidelity and Bring it On: The Musical) and stage choreography by Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan). The result of their collaboration is nothing short of a vibrantly composed, elegantly choreographed and spirited production.
(L-R) Jay Armstrong Johnson, Keala Settle, Hunter Foster and Keith Carradine. Photo by Kevin Berne.
I have not seen the original documentary, but after viewing some clips on YouTube, it seems they remain quite true to the real people, down to the mustache of Benny Perkins (played by Hunter Foster) and the headphones of Norma Valverde (played by Keala Settle). The colorful cast of characters each have their own motivation and purpose, but are all driven to the truck by the same force of economic depravity. The truck, symbolizing the American Dream (ironically a Japanese-made Nissan model) is the notable 16th character, which lights up, honks and moves fluidly on the stage with the characters. Each character’s story unfolds through song. The catchy melodies and heart-felt lyrics draw the audience into their struggles. The truck means something different for each person: a one-way ticket to Hollywood; God’s will; or a means for college tuition.
(L-R) Jay Armstrong Johnson, Allison Case and Hunter Foster. Photo by Kevin Berne.
I found myself rooting for my favorite character, just as an observer from grand stand at the Texas dealership or the radio listener who followed the 5-day contest must have. One by one, the characters drop off as their hopes for the truck fall away with them, until one victor remains. As the cast takes the stage one last time for the final score, their collective hopes rise again, permeating the audience with the enduring message that far exceeds the prize itself: If you love something, keep your hands on it.
The performance on Saturday night ended with a standing ovation from the crowd. My husband and I left the theater, hand-in-hand, reminded and inspired to pursue our lives with a little more heart, and how gel insoles could help us along the way.
La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere, commissioned musical Hands on a Hardbody runs through June 17 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre. Book by Doug Wright, lyrics by Amanda Green, music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, directed by Neil Pepe, musical staging by Benjamin Millepied.
So tell us in the comments below, would you be willing to endure five days under the scorching sun for the chance to take home your dream…a new car?
We all watched Sesame Street, right? I grew up watching puppets solve problems, teach new letters and numbers, and singing songs about friendship, sharing and feelings. Avenue Q is a lot like Sesame Street, except puppets solve much more adult problems, learn about racism, and sing songs about the dark side of the internet. And Gary Coleman lives there too.
It was amazing to see a cast of 6 people and a plethora of puppets that included humans, monsters and bad idea bears bring the Civic Theatre stage to life. This three-time Tony award-winning musical definitely earns all of its accolades. My husband and I laughed through the entire performance, and I don’t think I saw a single person sleeping. It was a great date night as long as you’re not taking someone out who is easily offended. If you get a chance to head downtown to see it I would 100% recommend it as long as you leave your little monsters at home.
Avenue Q, presented by Broadway San Diego, is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through July 11th. For tickets and show times, please see the Broadway San Diego website.