BWW Review: LYMAN, THE MUSICAL Deals With Homeless Issues In An Evening Of Music, Lyrics And An Interwoven Tale Of What If? At The El Portal Theatre
August 18, 2018
LYMAN, The Musical, is about, centrally, a person named Lyman Liri. We are first introduced to him as an adult when a lady stops to talk to him while he is selling Valencia oranges on the streets of Redlands, California. We begin to learn about both of them, and how they might even be connected, as the woman seems to recognize him, but can't recall from where or when.,
This is a brand new Musical that made it's El Portal debut the night I saw the performance. It is an amazing and courageous endeavor to not only put a spotlight on the homeless in our city, but to show how possible it could be that one choice, one decision could change the course of your life forever, in a flash, and this theme is explored thoroughly throughout Lyman's story.
It is the creation and blood-sweat-and-tears project of Anne Johnstonbrown, who has had an immensely accomplished career as an actress, an author, a teacher, composer, singer and producer. It is based on the book she wrote, "My Name's Lyman," recalling her experience in real life in 2007, a chance encounter with a homeless person that made her determined to change the perception of the homeless.
She has written original songs for the production as well as directed and is playing one of the main characters in the play, Carolyn Liri. This presentation is in conjunction with Pauly's Project, a worthy Los Angeles nonprofit organization that provides meals, headsets, hygiene products and musical entertainment to the homeless. "We must take a stand as a community to put a dent in this homeless crisis," says Pauly's Project founder, Paul Avila. "We must step up and be a voice for the voiceless. Theater, Art, Music that brings public attention to this epidemic in a different way, is so important."
Through a series of events coupled with Anne's imagination into what if one event or choice changed the future for you, what might happen, how could your life or death be altered, and until you know someone's story, how often that person is actually a true hero in life, no matter what outer circumstances appear to be at that moment in time.
You don't learn all the facts and how everyone is connected until near the end of this two-Act performance, but along the way we are treated to some wonderful characters and vocal performances, that put the meaning in love, care and respect for one another. The gospel songs that Eddie Griego sings throughout, as the Homeless Veteran, are just so beautiful and soulfully sung. All of the characters who sing have wonderful voices, and sing from the heart. Lyman is played at different ages by Noah Naishtut as the child, Andrew Flory (also the choreographer for the show) the teenage Lyman and Michael Naishtut as Lyman, older. The pivotal character in this play is Carolyn Liri, played by Anne Johnstonbrown, who has a lovely, bright voice and, singing the words she wrote to the melodies she penned, is full of intention, purpose, expression and feeling.
There are different "Universes" presented, that give you an idea of the different directions one's destiny might lead, and the acting out of these possibilities is quite entertaining and riveting; from becoming a rockstar instead of a homeless veteran or a homeless mother and child, to dying in combat, surviving combat, an Evangelist, a gay hippie piano player, a traitor to the government, or a simple orange grove owner.
In part of the storyline are the experiences that Lyman went through during Vietnam, with all different scenarios played out, including the lasting PTSD effects afterwards, and seeing your fellow soldier die on the battlefield, skillfully enacted by Lou Beatty, Jr., as the older Anders, Lyman's best friend during the war, and Eric Bailey, Jr. as a younger Anders. Especially touching is a scene with Veronica Crystal Young playing Lyman's aged and now homeless mother, Marilyn Liri, and one with John F. Henry II portraying Lyman's father, Raymond Liri.
The production stars Lou Beatty, Jr. (Tales from the Hood 2, The Yard), and features Eric Bailey, Jr., Jacob Betts, Chantel Cagle-Cordova , Erik Dabrowski, Natalie Eleftheriadis, Kevin C. Ezeh, Andrew Flory, Eddie Griego, Michael Naishtut, Betty Ann Ortega, Nathan Smith-Finley, Connie Ventress, William Warren, Howard Wilson, Hailey Harris, John F. Henry II, Noah Naishtut and Veronica Crystal Young.
Executive Producer Tom Brown, Production Assistant Penny Flory, Tech Assistants Andrew Flory and Kevin Ezeh, who added to the quality of the performance with sound effects and video played on and off on the back scrim, Costume designer & Tech Director Tammi Devine, Choreographer Andrew Flory, and the fabulous Music, Lyrics and Orchestrations by Anne Johnstonbrown all came together to give a heartful, moving and earnest performance.
I applaud everyone involved for focusing on such a prevalent problem in our society, and putting their heart and soul into this production. It really makes you stop and think about things, wanting to feel more empathy to the world around us, and doing something about it to change things.
The transitions of scenes could be tighter and more varied, and the pace could also be a bit quicker, but as this is a new work, I am positive each performance will bring more and more finesse to it.
LYMAN, The Musical, plays August 24, 25 and closes Sunday, August 26, 2018, with weekend matinee and evening showings at the historic El Portal Theatre. Tickets available in person at box office, via phone at 818.508.4200 or online at www.elportaltheatre.com/lyman.html
Also, audience members are encouraged to bring one bag of items to donate, or make a monetary donation to Pauly's Project, and will receive a LYMAN, The Musical Soundtrack CD, the Novel or a signed Souvenir Script!
Please treat yourself to a meaningful evening of theatre before they close this weekend!
A quote from Anne Johnstonbrown sums it up: "If we could accept the truth that all homeless people are capable of being heroes, and all people are capable of being homeless, perhaps homelessness could once and for all be solved."
Such a beautiful message!
Photos Courtesy of Vince Bucci.