Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
October 7, 2011
Once upon a time, in a semi-autobiographical play, a down-and-out family lived in a shabby, cluttered apartment. The father was gone, the mother had her head in the clouds and the kids were figuratively at sea. One of them, a brooding realist with the soul of an artist, is forced into drudge-work as the sole support of his family of fantasists.
The surprise ending is that this isn’t about “The Glass Menagerie.” While Tennessee Williams’ classic is darkly dramatic, “Somewhere,” a world premiere by Matthew Lopez, is filled with joy, light and, delightfully, a whole lot of dance.
It’s 1959, smack in the middle of the Golden Age of the American musical, and the musical theater-loving Candelaria clan goes gaga over “West Side Story,” the show that features Puerto Ricans. They know every line, song and dance move. And they’d die to be extras in the movie version, the Prologue of which is being filmed right in their ‘hood. Problem is , they’re being evicted, like 16,000 other residents in the West 60s, to make room for Lincoln Center.
Inez, the matriarch, refuses to budge, leaving her three children, under the direction of hard-working, sensible Alejandro, to pack up, surreptitiously. In the second act, the family has relocated to Brooklyn. but they still have a shot at auditioning for the legendary choreographer, Jerome Robbins, whose assistant happens to be their former neighbor, Jamie McRae. Most of the lead Sharks will be played by non-Puerto Ricans, but there will be extras, and this is a dream of dreams for Inez and her kids – or at least two of them. Jandro long ago abandoned his dreams – and he was the most gifted dancer in the family.
So, there’s a lot going on here: social history, theater history, New York history, and a delusional family in distress.
Playwright Lopez loves to peek behind the familiar portrait of seminal events. As in “The Whipping Man,” which had its West coast premiere at the Old Globe last year and went on to a successful Off Broadway run, his unique voice and vision are manifest in “Somewhere.” But the play needs considerable trimming and tightening, and the enigmatic ending needs re-thinking. Still, it’s a fascinating story, populated by rich, full-bodied characters.
Director Giovanna Sardelli has marshaled a magnificent cast, each portrayal filled with life, energy, humor and dance– even on the small, circular stage of the White Theatre. The mother’s solo is overly long, but when John Rua’s Alejandro finally breaks out, it’s thrilling.
Priscilla Lopez, a Tony award-winning Broadway veteran, plays the mother with wit and pizzazz. And – bonus! – she’s the real-life aunt of the playwright.
The set, lighting, sound and costumes are pitch-perfect. Theaterlovers and dance fans will adore this show. “Somewhere” has something for everyone: a truly moving experience.
“Somewhere” continues through October 30 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre in Balboa Park.
©2011 PAT LAUNER