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Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Here are my thoughts after attending the first preview performance.

Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Let me start by saying, I adore new works. The thrill and excitement of experiencing a new work for the very first time, before so many others, is a rush for the creative part of my being. I feel as if I'm part of a secret society, or like I'm an ancient explorer. When I learned that I would be covering the world premiere of the new musical, OTHER WORLD, I couldn't contain my excitement. If you haven't seen my interview with creative team members and cast members, click here.

What you're about to read in this article is a continuation of my coverage for the production and what I encountered during the first public preview on February 24th. This isn't a review, per se. I've been told that what I saw on the first preview night is not entirely the same as what audiences on Opening Night and onward are witnessing. In a very brief curtain speech, Executive and Artistic Director, Bud Martin, spoke words similar to those I often say in my own preview performance curtain speech, "This is the very first time the show will fully run with a live audience. We may have to stop the show if something terrible happens." With that, we were off and running. My fingers were crossed for the cast, crew and everyone involved. I am pleased to advise that nothing "terrible" happened and the show did not stop. It did, however, have moments that I will assume were not up to speed to constitute a fully smooth run.

For that reason, I am returning to OTHER WORLD in a few days to review the production in its "final version." I hope you'll continue to read this article and my final review when published for my inside look into the makings of a new theatrical work - from page to stage.

The concept of a video game based musical isn't new. There are other works - John Tartaglia's Claudio Quest (New York Musical Theater Festival 2015) and
Tall Green Plumber: The Musical (a ten year Senior school project finally staged in 2021 at Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre). But, both of those musicals are based on an existing game - namely, Mario Brothers, and have a point of view from the video game characters. OTHER WORLD sets itself apart by setting the adventure within a game but from the gamers' point of view. Choosing for complete originality, the writers have unobstructed freedom to construct storylines, characters, vistas; well, pretty much, everything.

The broad storyline of OTHER WORLD centers on gamer Sri and his bygone childhood friend, Lorraine, who unexpectedly transport into Sri's favorite video game, and must succeed in playing the game (accomplishing quests and securing tokens) in order to return to the real world. Deeper themes relate to the lasting connections people make online and how they penetrate offline relationships, the love of family (biological and chosen), friendships, and one's self. Framing the work within the world of gamers, a community which those on the outside often don't understand and tend to mock, requires those without gaming knowledge to quickly learn the lingo and the worldwide community gaming creates.

As my colleague wrote in his review, the modifications to the Delaware Theater Company stage are quite impressive. For DTC Artistic Director. Bud Martin, and the entire DTC management to not only entertain the idea of such a spectacle but actually complete the work is unheard of in our small theater community. A double turntable stage, a full complement of rock concert worthy moving lights, a full stage LED projection wall, art direction by Academy Award-winning
W?"tā Workshop (Avatar), puppets by Achesonwalsh Studios (War Horse), award-winning creative team members - all of the elements required for a truly bold and beautiful Broadway show. I can assure you that DTC has set a ridiculously high bar that no other Delaware theater venue will meet in the next decade (or more). The risk was huge! And, the creators are more than aware of the fact. Every interview I've read or watched has the creators giving high praise and a note of gratitude to DTC for taking the risk. I, myself, thank DTC for taking the risk because it is only when a theater company, the backers, a production team, and all of the other necessary parties are willing to put themselves out there and risk it all does a new work get to flourish and move well beyond the page.

OTHER WORLD was conceived by Ann McNamee, who brought in Hunter Bell, who then brought in old friend, Jeff Bowen. (Bell and Bowen are the dynamic duo who wrote that little gem [title of show] back in 2004.) By the time OTHER WORLD takes the stage at Delaware Theater Company, it will have been in the works for over nine years. The show has been through the excruciating process of writing, rewriting, table readings, rewriting, workshops, more rewriting, staged readings, more and more rewriting, and so on. The show audiences are enjoying now is not the show originally penned years ago. (Insider info - The character of Lorraine was once a very limited character with only a line or two. Now, she's the Co-Protagonist.) While I fully appreciate the time and love the creators have put into the show, I'm not certain it reached its best level by first preview. Here are my thoughts from the February 24 preview performance.

The opening number, "Here We Go," sung by Sri and his gaming community tries to lay out background information for non-gamers, but I'm not certain it does the job. There are a lot of words sung by a multitude of characters causing a jumble of sound without the energy of a rousing opening song. The Act Two song, "That's Why We Play" has more emotional tug in explaining why gamers are so completely invested in what they do. One of the absolute best scenes with a song is hands down "Dance Inside the Lighting." Any scene within a video game dance club with luminous flashing lights, pumping dance beat, and slick choreography, will certainly rock the house.

There were no young audience members at my performance, but I am certain this one gets them bouncing in their seats. The songs "No End to Love," "Reaching for the Sky," and and the finale "Our World" are far better than others. There was one instance where I questioned the use of "singing" because it was more of a recitative passage. Having it only in that one section was awkward. However, it did make me ponder if OTHER WORLD could morph into a singspiel given its epic presentation. (Now I've given an example of how having complete originality in a new work makes a creator toss around ALL of the ideas.) And, if leaning into the epicness of the action, the music should match in grander fashion. (Side note for [title of show] fans - I'm pretty certain you'll hear a play on the tune regarding a monkey.)

While the story begins its propulsion with Sri (Jamen Nanthakumar), he reconnects with family friend, Lorraine (Bonnie Milligan), and they unknowingly wind up inside a Sri's favorite video game. (If anyone wants to name a cat, I suggest Sri because curiosity almost killed that cat.) Mr. Nanthakumar does an excellent job in the role and is more than up to the challenge of being on stage almost every moment of the show. Ms. Milligan is perfect as the sassy, keeping it real, Lorraine. Her strong belty voice is the cherry on top of her subtle comedy. Once inside the game, the pair meet Temula (Charnette Batey), the avatar assigned to reward players with quest tokens. Once Temula learns that living in the real world gives one the chance to make choices, then her story blossoms.

Ms. Batey's warm, smooth vocals are wrapped within the physical attributes of a strong warrior. Guided by Temula, Sri and Lorraine maneuver through the game meeting both friends and foes while trying to find their way back to the real world. Meanwhile IRL (in real life), a trio of Sri's gamer friends, Myra (Adinah Alexander), Tris (Sav Souza) and Jamie (Marilyn Melissa Saguelo), are investigating his absence, and while doing so, end up inside the game as well. The more than fifty other characters in the show are played by an extremely talented quick-change artist ensemble of twenty. The game character/avatar costumes are exquisite (and most likely not easy to get in and out of). The oversized puppets are mesmerizing to all ages. I'm hoping the dragon scene has been tweaked with better music.

But, I have questions. With such wonderful creatures and avatar creations, why don't they have more stage time, especially if the production is for younger viewers? As a sci-fi fantasy fan, I could really get into more of that. And, if the show is for young audience members, does the Stage Manager call an audible at curtain? There are those parents who will cringe when the word "m-fer" bellows out. Can the trio gamers/friends story be less or reworked? (Maybe they stay outside the game and control their avatars?) I lost focus during their garage scene, and I think there's a plot hole regarding the portal, but if you don't notice, I'm not telling. I have a few other questions which I hope are answered when I return to OTHER WORLD.

Again folx, this is the beauty of a new original work. It often is not 100% even after so many years of work, planning, revisions and testing. Creators are seldom satisfied with what the public deems a finished work and will always find something else to address. Only someone in theater could spot or deduce the off-times during the preview - missed lighting cues, uncertainty with music, moving set navigation problems. I am sure for the majority of the preview audience, it was an incredible night of theater. And, rightfully so!

Book by Hunter Bell

Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee
Directed by Sdrienne Campbell-Holt
Choreography by Karla Puno Garcia
Runs through March 20th

Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington DE 19801

Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Feature: Another Look Inside OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theater Company

Rehearsal Photos: Rick Smolan
Production Photos: Matt Urban/NuPoint Marketing

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