BWW Review: World Premiere Musical LETTERS TO EVE Shares WWII Memories Written to Loved Ones.
From the moment I met super-talented Daniel Sugimoto at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe "Best In Cabaret" show Thenardier's Inn by CAC Studios, I knew I would be following his progress as one of the finest musical theater progenies I had ever met. Not only is he a triple threat onstage as well as a brilliant musical director, his skill with composing musical numbers that movingly tell a story imbues each of his characters with deep-felt heart and soul through his incredible imagination and understanding of human nature.
After forming his own Sugimation Productions, Daniel created the critically acclaimed Broadway Noir and Project Mayhem shows, both of which I have previously reviewed. So when I was invited to his latest musical endeavor, the World Premiere of LETTERS TO EVE, I rushed to make plans to attend on opening night, just in time for the Veterans Day weekend. The fascinating work of art is co-directed by Sugimoto and Julia Lisa, with lighting designed by Zachary Johnson-Dunlop, hair and make-up designed by Lee Marshall, period-perfect costumes designed by Julia Lisa, with sound design by Austin Schumacher whose struggle with the poor sound quality in the Miles Playhouse often makes the actors difficult to hear.
LETTERS TO EVE has been a 7-year labor of love for Sugimoto, which he started writing for his grandmother, Midori Sugimoto, who grew up in an American Concentration Camp during WWII. Even through their incarceration, Japanese Americans continued on living, loving, and laughing, all life aspects beautifully portrayed through Sugimoto's story and music, especially since he plays the score live onstage during every performance.
This epic WWII musical follows a Japanese American family and their plight through forced incarceration and an African American jazz musician captured during Germany's occupation of France, all expressed through the powerful spirit of music. Sugimoto acknowledges, "In America's current political situation, I also wanted to speak to the fact there are flickers of history repeating, and it is important to hear the lessons of the past to make a better future."
The talented cast of over 20 people is made up of performers of all ages and racial backgrounds, each of whom are worthy of major kudos for their contributions to the production. Standouts include Asian-American Melvin Biteng as the shy teen Ray who falls in love with his classmate Eve, portrayed by the self-assured Andrea Somera. It is Ray's letters to Eve that form the basis of the musical, written by Ray and sent by his life-long buddy Maki (the show-stopping Scott Kenji Takeda) from the warfront when Ray reveals how the letters have been written but never sent home. Thinking the letters were lost, Ray only learns Eve received them after he returns home after the war to her welcoming arms.
Juxtaposed with this personal story is the tale of African-American musician Archie (John F. Thomas) whose letters to his escaped lover Eden (Cassandra Noel) after he is left behind at Dachau are discovered by Ray when he and his fellow soldiers free the camp at the end of WWII. The only unbelievable element in their story is his ability to visit with Eden in the women's barracks, something I doubt could have happened at Dachau when the men and women prisoners were undoubtedly housed separately. But their endearing moments together contribute moments of what it must have been like to be manhandled as well as privately befriended by the guards assigned to keep them in their place, whatever it took.
This breathtaking new work uncovers lost personal letters sent between the two sets of lovers when they were separated by WWII. Each letter received was treasured by the recipient, which reminded me of how much I wish I had written memories from my Eastern European ancestors lost during the Holocaust. With a running time of three hours, a bit of editing in both the text and musical numbers is a definite must as the emotional reaction felt by audience members is tried with such a long production.
LETTERS TO EVE shares tales from history and paints a pure picture of a fascinating as well as terrifying era. Discover the power as these characters who decided to stand up for what's right, and in doing so, created a legacy for the ages. You can experience the journey of these forgotten heroes at The Miles Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403, with performances November 10th-20th on Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sun at 5pm. Tickets run from $20-$40 and may be purchased at the door or in advance at Letterstoeve.com. Street parking available as well as in a lot on the opposite corner of Wilshire and Lincoln from The Playhouse.
Photo credit: Austin Schumacher