BWW Review: INTERSTATE Fills a Gap in Musical Theatre That Some May Not Even Know Existed
When it comes to musical theatre these days, so many shows look and sound like other things. It's so rare when something comes along that shakes up the norm, filling a gap that many may not have even known needed filling. That's exactly what Interstate does.
Interstate, with book and lyrics by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, is a self-proclaimed "Queer Asian Musical," two communities that are still grossly underrepresented in all forms of media, but combined into one community makes something unprecedented on any mainstream stage.
Li and Yan wrote the musical based on their own story. Li is a lesbian singer-songwriter, and Yan a transgender spoken-word artist. Together they formed the band Good Asian Drivers. This is nearly identical to the fictional band in the musical, Queer Malady, featuring lesbian singer-songwriter Adrian (Angel Lin), and transgender spoken-word artist Dash (Jon Viktor Corpuz). The musical follows the band on their first tour of the U.S., facing obstacles that challenge their loyalty, their friendship, and their feelings for each other.
Concurrently, another story is being told, that of Henry (Sushma Saha), a 16 year old transgender boy from Kentucky, who tells his life story through vlogs on the internet. Henry's first appearance is his "coming out" vlog where he tells the internet he is transgender. Throughout his arc, we find out that he has a religious family that throws away his testosterone, and demands he go to church and pray to be "normal." Henry finds solace in listening to his favorite band, Queer Malady. He looks up to Dash, a transgender boy who seems to have it all figured out.
Saha had me hooked from the first notes they sing, in the catchy song "I Don't Look," which is still stuck in my head 24 hours later. In the song, Henry sings about a girl he has a crush on in school, but she doesn't know he's transgender, and barely notices him. It's heartwrenching and honest. Saha plays the role with such sincerity that you can't help but root for Henry throughout the show. I was moved to tears by the end, seeing how his story turned out.
Lin and Corpuz are incredibly believable as best friends and bandmates. Their banter and onstage chemistry is infectious, making the audience burst into laughter at the silly way they sometimes act around one another. Both characters are unapologetically themselves, especially Adrian, who defends the fact that she is, in fact, a lesbian to both Dash, who develops feelings for her, and her own mother who seems to think the "gay stuff" is just a phase.
The contrast between the families of the two main characters is striking, seen through phone calls between Adrian and her mother, and Dash and his father. Dash's father (Kiet Tai Cao) is supportive of his son's dreams, as well as his transgender identity. It is reiterated multiple times that when Dash came out to him, he was immediately supportive, despite the questions and worries he faced. Cao was an audience favorite, delivering his lines with a humorous tone but still with complete sincerity that warmed my heart.
Adrian's mother (Michelle Noh) is dismissive of her daughter's dreams to become a musician, and insists she go to graduate school instead. She's unsupportive of Adrian's sexuality, insisting she's "too pretty to still be gay," which elicited a resounding "oof" from the audience.
The integration of social media is something so many can relate to. A song called "Why I Share," sung by Henry and the ensemble, depicts how sometimes people who feel like they don't belong can find a community on the internet. In this day and age, so many people, especially those in the queer community, understand this exact sentiment. The song is an anthem for anyone who may be struggling to navigate finding themselves among people who all seem to be against them.
Interstate tells a story that needs to be told, integrating the queer experience with the Asian experience, and what exactly it means to be both. The tale is something that so many can relate to, especially those who fit into these communities. Whether you relate to Dash, the transgender person who seems to have it all figured out, but on the inside is just as confused as everyone else. Or Adrian, the lesbian with an unsupportive mother, who is just trying to follow her dreams and be herself. Or Henry, a young boy from a small town just trying to become the man he's supposed to be among a religious family trying to keep him down. This show is for everyone who may not fit into the "neat little boxes" of sexuality or gender. This show is for everyone who may not be 100% what is considered "normal." This show is for everyone who has ever looked for a sense of belonging. This show is for everyone.