By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
When people who come from different walks of life collide, directly or indirectly, one wonders how the two came together. What journey did they take to place one in the other’s life? Everyman Theatre’s latest offering, the premiere of Los Otros, with Book & Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh and Music by Michael John LaChiusa, Direction by Noah Himmelstein, and Music Direction by Jon Kalbfleisch gives us a glimpse into that journey and of the steps two characters take through life to cross each other’s path. I’d like to, if I may, give major kudos to Everyman Theatre, as well, for stepping out of their “comfort zone” of strictly plays and producing not only a musical but a brand new, commissioned musical, at that!
Los Otros revolves around Lillian, a white woman, and Carlos, a Hispanic man, who both live in California and is told in a series of vignettes composed of their memories, reflections, and discoveries about themselves and the world around them between the years of 1938 and 1995. According to Everyman Theatre, “Inspiring, energetic and emotionally charged, this semi-autobiographical work captures a universal story of interconnectedness, love, risk and revelation through the lens of two people’s lives.”
The story of Los Otros itself is engaging and I feel for these characters and am genuinely interested in their lives and the stories they tell. The book by Ellen Fitzhugh is authentic and raw with simple storytelling that makes this piece so charming. For spanning so many years, it’s organized and easy to follow and the ending is certainly fitting and satisfying. Michael John LaChiusa’s music leaps off the page and is absolutely appropriate for this piece. I appreciate the hints of different styles representing different eras and though some of the melodies seem a little elementary, overall, the score is pleasing and well thought-out.
For as good as the music and book are, Lyrics, also by Fitzhugh, though good, in general, could use a little more editing. At points it seems Fitzhugh is trying too hard for a rhyme and over-telling the story through song. A couple of the pieces, such as “Arturo,” which is a still a good song, had many parts that sound more like a recitative that can be been spoken rather than trying to throw it into a song. That being said, Music & Lyrics, aside from a few minor, specific criticisms that may smooth out over time, work very well together for this piece as a whole.
Once again, Everyman Theatre has no disappointed with their beautiful set. Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is simple and minimal, yet elegant and appropriate for a production of compiled vignettes. Each character has his or her own main space on either side of the stage with shared space in the center. The use of sliding lattice and slight levels makes the setting interesting without taking away from the action of the piece. This is yet another fantastic set design from Daniel Ettinger.
Lighting and Sound Design by Nancy Schertler and Ken Travis, respectively, also adds to this piece and does not distract from it. Both work in tandem to set the mood of each vignette and brings the audience into the piece subtly guiding the emotion of the action onstage.
David Burdick’s Costume Design is minimal, as it should be for a piece such as this, and each character is costumed befittingly with an wardrobe that is simple, but versatile enough add a piece or take away a piece to represent the different eras of the five decade timeline.
Music Direction is tackled by Jon Kalbfleisch and I would imagine that taking the musical reigns of a brand new piece can be challenging, even daunting, but if it is, Kalbfleisch does an exquisite job. Under his direction, the vocal performances and orchestra were well-rehearsed, giving us a superb final product.
Everyman Theatre’s new Associate Artistic Director, Noah Himmelstein, takes the reigns of this production and not only took on Direction of this new and re-imagined piece, but also had a hand in development. His vision is unpretentious, but innovative and effective. His vision is evident and he handles the material nicely and makes it relevant for today’s social and cross-cultured environment. The story is told clearly and the characters are precise making for an enjoyable and enlightening evening of theatre.
Both Judy McLane and Philip Hernandez, both experienced, veteran actors of stage and screen do an impeccable job bringing these characters to life and embodying them completely. Their performances are absolutely engaging and their storytelling is top notch. The connection between these two characters is gradual and clear and both McLane and Hernandez follow this connection at and equal pace impressively reaching the climax seamlessly and simultaneously.
Philip Hernandez takes on the role of Carlos, who goes on a journey of sexual identity, defining and finding love, and honoring culture and Hernandez plays it near flawlessly. He has a strong, confident presence and seems to really understand his character. Vocally, he gives an admirable performance with a clear voice that resonates beautifully throughout the theatre. Though, at times, the performance seemed a bit (just a bit) forced, his gradual change in demeanor during his storytelling of his childhood through adulthood is seamless and one is brought into an immersed in the story rather than just sitting on the outside listening making for a commendable and impressive performance.
Judy McLane as Lillian is an absolute joy to watch. She gives an outstanding, natural performance with an exceptional ability to tell a story. McLane presents the authenticity of her character tastefully but with a raw, unabashed undertone throughout the entire production. Life has thrown some curve balls at Lillian and McLane portrays it near perfectly. Her vocal performance is outstanding and strong even while smoothly (and brilliantly) acting her way through her songs. Overall, she gives a solid and remarkable performance.
Final thought… Los Otros at Everyman Theatre is basically a poignant coming-of-age tale spanning many decades and two different cultures. The simple storytelling is what makes this piece work so well and the music is fresh with hints of each decade it represents though the lyrics are a bit hokey and elementary, at times, while at other times, too much. The script is light as the concentration is on the music, but it is engaging and commanding. The journey these characters take us on is mixed with sadness, happiness, smooth sailing, and bumps in the road, but the ending of this story is worth the traveling. It’s always a pleasure and a privilege great to see new and re-imagined works at our larger small theatres in Baltimore and Everyman Theatre is to be commended for their work with this piece. This is definitely a production worthy of your time and consideration!
This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Los Otros… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Los Otros will play through April 23 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.
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