BWW Reviews: Hartford Stage's SOMEWHERE Takes Us Somewhere Between Musical-Comedy and Drama
Theatre: Hartford Stage
Location: 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT
Production: By Matthew Lopez, Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; Choreography by Greg Graham; Scenic Design by Donyale Werle; Lighting Design by Philip S. Rosenberg; Costume Design by Amy Clark; Sound Design by Jason Crystal; Original Music by Bill Sherman. Through May 4; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m; Matinees on Select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Tickets $25-$88.50, call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Hartford Stage's 2012/2013 Aetna New Voices Fellow Matthew Lopez returns to the scene of his 2012 triumph The Whipping Man, a dark and tragic collision of the African American and Jewish American experience during the Civil War in the South, with an altogether different work. Hopping forward a century and relocating to New York City, Lopez offers a considerably brighter and mostly comic collision of dreamers and realists with Somewhere.
While not as triumphant as The Whipping Man, the playwright comes back to Hartford Stage with something crowd-pleasing and affectionate. With Somewhere's love letter to showbiz aspirants, Broadway, dance and his aunt who stars, Lopez has a hit on his hands that with further refinement could rival the success of his earlier work.
During the show's two hour-and-change running time, I spent much of the time playing "Spot the Influence." The longest shadow would seem to be cast by the seminal 1957 musical West Side Story, whose ballet provides the title for this play. One can only imagine the pride Puerto Ricans in New York City must have felt seeing Chita Rivera kicking up her heels
Lopez borrows a bit more inspiration from two other giants of the stage: Gypsy and The Glass Menagerie. Both pieces (and Somewhere) feature an MIA father, rundown living conditions, a gentleman caller who promises the hope of greater things, an enabling child, and, of course, a mother figure who is a magnetic, charming, micro-managing mother.
Playwright Lopez has created a dynamic character for his aunt, the Tony Award-winning Broadway star Priscilla Lopez. Inez Candelaria rules her roost with an iron fist in a velvet glove holding her three children - the starry-eyed Rebecca, the kinetic Francisco and the stalwart Alejandro - in a grasp that somehow allowed her husband to slip out her fingers. Ms. Lopez has a great deal of fun with the role evidencing charisma by the boatloads, without ever truly tipping over into the mania that makes Amanda Wingfield and Mama Rose completely magnetic. She is clearly an audience favorite and further development could push this role into one for the ages.
The Tom Wingfield/Rose Louise of the family is Alejandro, portrayed with restraint and appropriate frustration by Michael Rosen. Shouldering the burden of his absent father, the crushing role of patriarch has made a realist in a household of dreamers. Rosen manages a nice balance of humor and pathos in the part. As his de-facto adopted brother Jamie, Cary Tedder subs in for the gentleman caller/Tulsa, but feels a bit less of a character and more of a device for an Act II face-off that more appropriately belongs between Inez and her son.
The Candeleria Family is rounded out by the winning and earnest Jessica Naimy in the role of Rebecca and the over-caffeinated Zachary Infante as Francisco. Naimy, who along with Tedder, executes the majority of the dancing in the show, is a stage charmer. You can see in Naimy's star-struck demeanor the dangers of falling hook, line and sinker for her mother's show biz obsessions. Conversely, Infante's always being "on," takes his character beyond realism into caricature. Although loaded with comic bits, he shakes, flops and jitters his way through the part.
The first act and second act don't feel wholly different from one another with the thrilling Act I conclusion having little dramatic pay-off in Act II. It seems as though the family's travails regarding money, a missing father, etc. have only changed addresses. The theme of dreamers being allowed their delusions when reality comes crashing through the walls (literally) gets hammered home a little too frequently.
The set by Donyale Werle is a stunner that manages to blend West Side Story's setting with the Wingfield's walk-up. The lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg alternates smartly between realism and the showbiz dreamscape of the family. Jason Crystal's sound design similarly fluctuates between the Candelaria's tinny turntable and the surround sound of their Broadway aspirations. The costumes by Amy Clark are period appropriate and, in the case of a few key pieces, stunning reminders of a bygone era.
All in all, Mr. Lopez has fashioned a relatively sturdy piece, directed with panache by Giovanna Sardelli, that had the audience leaping on its feet at the conclusion of the evening. Although the play has had previous productions and workshops, it seems that with a little fine tuning, Somewhere's dreamers will indeed find a home on stages across America.