Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“Los Otros” – new musical production at the Taper suffers vocal misfires
When you listen to Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie on their in-house season promotional video (which plays in the Taper’s lounge nonstop) he waxes poetic about “Los Otros,” the world premiere musical the Taper has just opened. Along with mentioning Ellen Fitzhugh’s book and lyrics, he most particularly praises Michael John La Chiusa’s score to what is essentially a two-monologue musical on the subject of the connections and disconnects between cultures in California. When you hear Ritchie talk, you can hardly wait to hear this music, which he claims will be the soundtrack to the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, you must continue to wait until half-way through the show. A sung monologue only works if the person performing it can sing. The second half of this show without an intermission belongs to Julio Monge, whose character’s reminiscences about farm work and sexual discovery prove sweetly evocative. That’s after Michelle Pawk gets in the way of her character’s story of damaged Anglo angst simply because we cannot get past her singing. Her voice is improperly supported, with a vibrato so large it is sometimes difficult to tell what note she is on, and when she does land on it, it’s flat. After a while you don’t hear the story, just the jarring tonalities.
This is, admittedly, odd. Pawk has a fistful of Broadway and off-Broadway musical credits. Unfortunately, whatever got her those roles is not evident now.
The tale really is two separate ones. The first, “Tres Ninos” is the story of a girl who grew up in post-war San Diego, and developed a fascination with the Mexicans who snuck over the border to hide in a cave near her home. As she grows, she embraces a Mexican housekeeper, and then in her darkest period, a Mexican young man. In each moment she is struck again with this fascination for a national character and a way of being so far from her own. At least, that’s what one should remember, could one listen with pleasure, as Pawk does a solid acting job. If this were all spoken word, she’d be a success.
In the second part, “Dos Hombres,” we watch Monge’s character reminisce over his time near the end of World War II as a child in a family of pickers, and his gradual discovery of his homosexuality. Now an aged man with a fine career and a long-term partner, he still remembers the moment when a bitter white farmer’s elation over the end of the war led to a gesture of equality, however brief. Monge sings with gentle authority, and brings just the gentlest softening to a traditional Mexican manhood image. It’s subtle work, and quite touching.
Chistopher Barreca’s set – most of it literally aloft – is a triumph of minimalism, leaving what must be left to the imagination with room to grow. Director Graciela Daniele makes each character human: tough, fragile and tender by turns. This could be a rousing success. It won’t be, though, as long as Pawk sings as she did the night I saw the show. Flat enough to set your teeth on edge, that singing robbed this musical of its vitality, leaving one with two questions. First, was she sick (and if so, why didn’t the understudy go on)? Second, if she wasn’t sick, why was she cast?
Only her replacement or recovery can save this piece Ritchie touted so highly. “Los Otros” may have much to say, but it will be tough to get an audience to stick around enough to listen.
What: “Los Otros” When: Through July 1, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays Where: The Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $20 – $65 Info: (213) 628-2772 or http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org