Review: LYDIA AND THE TROLL at The Seattle Rep

The latest from local favorite Justin Huertas shows its stony face.

By: May. 11, 2023
Review: LYDIA AND THE TROLL at The Seattle Rep
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Review: LYDIA AND THE TROLL at The Seattle Rep
Janet Krupin and Sarah Russell in
Lydia and the Troll at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

He's a Seattle favorite. He inspires magic and wonder and just brings a smile to the faces of those who see him. No, I'm not talking about Justin Huertas, composer of the locally (and beyond) renowned musical "Lizard Boy" (about to make its Off-Broadway premiere in NYC, by the way), although I might as well be. No, I'm referring to the Fremont staple of the Troll statue under the Aurora Bridge. That devilish creature clutching a Volkswagen Beetle is beloved by all who pass through. Well now Huertas has come along with his own take on how this stone giant came to be, with his long awaited "Lydia and the Troll", currently playing at the Seattle Rep. And a few technical issues aside, it's just more wonderful from this up-and-coming composer who is about to take New York by storm.

In reality, the Fremont Troll isn't all that much of a mystery, having been created in 1990 by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. But in standard Huertas style, he's concocted his own mythology and folklore around the statue. At the top of the show we meet Jane (Janet Krupin) who sets the magical and creepy tone of her character perfectly with her opening number where she explains that she's really a troll. A troll who over the years has stolen the bodies and lives of the people (mostly artists) she encounters. She only needs a secret revealed by them to open the door to her powers to take over their identities. She also explains that she must do this every 20 years lest she revert to her original troll self. Oh, and her time is about to run out. Enter her latest victim, Lydia (Sarah Russell), an aspiring music producer on the eve of her big break. Constantly at odds with her own sense of identity and confidence, Lydia struggles to come up with a new song to present at a local competition and Jane swoops in promising inspiration.

The show itself is magical. With incredible songs infused with an electronic/pop score, this fable goes well beyond a simple fairy tale as we delve into the insecurities of all our characters, not the least of which is a stunning ballad of Lydia coming to terms with her "Black hair" which could easily become an anthem for black girls everywhere. And Huertas' voice comes through loud and clear here, showing his growth since the success of "Lizard Boy" as he brings this local folklore to glorious life.

Review: LYDIA AND THE TROLL at The Seattle Rep
Adam Standley and Janet Krupin in
Lydia and the Troll at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

The production is an ambitious one. Sometimes a little too ambitious with flashing lights, projections, sliding silhouetted backgrounds, and whimsical puppets to convey the story from scenic and projection designer Bryce Cutler, lighting designer Robert J. Aguilar, and puppet creator Guy Garrison. When it works, it works well, creating this otherworldly modern reality. Unfortunately, it was those same lights and projections that often obscured the story they wanted to tell. With so much going on, and not always timed well, the more complex moments of the characters and story were weighed down under distractions and flash. Prime example, I had already heard Lydia's big "I want" number with just her singing on a local talk show, without all the lights and such. And it was a much more informative and meaningful number than when she was competing with all the chaos. Maybe as the show goes on they can tone some of this chaos down or at least hone the use of it.

But these are minor distractions in an otherwise spectacular show with some killer performers and fantastic staging from director Ameenah Kaplan. First off, I need to call out the incredible stage crew who are working their butts off moving in and out scrims and set pieces alongside fabulous puppeteers Guy Garrison and Sophia Franzella. And the imagery the puppeteers brought to the piece only made this magical and quirky show even more so, easily transporting us to a world of make-believe. Plus, there was Conductor and musician Elisa Money along with drummer Scot Sexton who were rocking the score, complete with electronic loops, just off stage.

Review: LYDIA AND THE TROLL at The Seattle Rep
Sarah Russell and Adam Standley in
Lydia and the Troll at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Bronwen Houck

But it's the trio of singers in the show who make this something truly special. Adam Standley as Lydia's boyfriend Pete is a marvel. His voice is rich and crystal clear, filled with power and passion, but he also brought in a wonderful depth and complexity to what could have been a throw away, prop character. So much so that when his character had a personal misstep in the show, the audience groaned in disappointment. Now that's investment in a character! Not to mention he brought in some delightful comedic moments without taking the audience out of the story.

But this show is called "Lydia and the Troll" and it's with them our main focus lies. Russell as the insecure Lydia manages a blistering sadness to the character. A sadness that we can't help but root for and her arc and growth within the show is sublime. She takes us all on an outstanding emotional journey, bringing in her hopes and fears for her career but also personal, and I might add quite topical, issues that hit hard.

And then there's our "villain". From the moment we meet her, Krupin as Jane has the audience in the palm of her hands with her soul piercing vocals and some of the biggest and boldest stage presence I've seen. We can't not watch what she's up to. And even though what she's up to is despicably evil, we want more. Huertas has a penchant for wicked divas as his antagonists and Jane is no exception. A true diva who at one point makes the comment "I'm a star!" and all I could think was "Yes. Yes you are, Janet Krupin!"

The show is not without its problems. The aforementioned technical issues cause confusion, and it needs a better button of a finale. But beyond that it's a solid winner and audiences who are familiar with Huertas' work will adore it. And for those aren't familiar, get familiar. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Lydia and the Troll" at the Seattle Rep a solid as a rock troll YAY+. We've been teased with this one since 2019, and after postponements and one big damn pandemic it has finally arrived and it does not disappoint.

"Lydia and the Troll" performs at the Seattle Rep through June 11th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.




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