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BWW Review: WE'VE BATTLED MONSTERS BEFORE at ArtsWest

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Singular storytelling from Seattle favorite, Justin Huertas.

BWW Review: WE'VE BATTLED MONSTERS BEFORE at ArtsWest
Justin Huertas in We've Battled Monsters Before
at ArtsWest.
Photo credit: John McLellan

In Seattle we are blessed with an abundance of theatrical riches and none more welcome and prolific as composer and storyteller Justin Huertas. Ever since he burst on the scene in 2015 with the brilliant "Lizard Boy", Huertas has continued to thrill audiences with his singular musical theater storytelling with shows such as "Howl's Moving Castle", "The Lamplighter" and "The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion". Now he's back at ArtsWest with his latest, "We've Battled Monsters Before" and, while it takes a bit of time to take off, it comes together nicely leaving the audience itching for more.

Adapted from a 16th century Filipino epic poem, "Ibong Adarna", we follow two siblings, Diego and Adarna (Justin Huertas and Rheanna Atendido) as they continually use their magic to rescue Seattle from terrifying monsters. But with the help of their grandmother (also played by Huertas) we never realize we've been saved. But now the inexperienced Adarna has gotten in over her head and caused chaos with her spells and the trio of heroes may never be the same again.

First off let's look at the story itself. Representation matters. And so, it's wonderful how Huertas is able to bring us this wonderful Filipino tale that manages to break out of the typical mold. Even seamlessly injecting Tagalog into the dialog but never muddling the communication of the story or message to the audience was simply brilliant. Further breaking out of that mold is his bent towards infusing his shows with a delicious Sci Fi/Fantasy angle. We don't get enough superheroes in musical theater (a certain web-slinging flop aside) and so it's a delight to be able to see them in a Huertas show.

Next let's talk about his songs. Huertas brings such a wonderful lyric conversationality to his work making all his songs effortlessly move his stories along. This style doesn't always work but for Huertas, this seems to be his superpower. And this conversationality only draws the audience in more as he brings in a very intimate storytelling vibe to his shows as if we were all sitting around the campfire listening to an important oral history lesson. This particular lesson did take a bit of time to get going. The story weaves in and out of linear time so I wasn't always certain of the importance or stakes of any given tale, but then he deftly pulls that one thread at the end that draws all the tales in line and revealing how each one built upon the last beautifully.

BWW Review: WE'VE BATTLED MONSTERS BEFORE at ArtsWest
Justin Huertas and Rheanna Atendido in
We've Battled Monsters Before at ArtsWest.
Photo credit: John McLellan

Now let's discuss these two stellar performers. Not only singing and acting the story fabulously but the stage is littered with musical instruments that both Huertas and Atendido play throughout the evening, supplying their own orchestra. And with some fantastic staging from Director Mathew Wright, each switch of the instrument is never clumsy or awkward but flows seamlessly into the story making for an even greater delight for the audience. Huertas seems to have no limits to his talents, displayed in this show especially. And Atendido blew us all away with her gorgeous vocals, as well as her emotional connection to the story.

Wright, who is also the Artistic Director of the theater, began his opening night speech with how the theater's return season would spotlight on storytelling, so starting with Huertas' show seems like a no-brainer. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ArtsWest's production of "We've Battled Monsters Before" a glorious welcome back of a YAY. I know we've got more to come from Huertas (some things hopefully soon, hint hint) and I, for one, cannot wait. And beyond that, this one makes for a terrific evening for the whole family.

"We've Battle Monsters Before" performs at ArtsWest through December 26th. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.artswest.org.


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