I’ve been to see the Redwoods twice. Once in person with my late husband years ago and the second time at The La Jolla Playhouse.
I know, I know. There are no redwoods at the Playhouse, but believe it or not I had the experience of a lifetime at my second visit as I sat almost motionless throughout the 2 hour give or take intermission-less production of “Redwood”, a World Premiere Musical with book by Tina Landau, music by Kate Diaz conceived by Tina Landau and Idina Menzel, lyrics by Kate Diaz and Tina Landau, with additional contributions by Idina Menzel and last but not least it is by directed by Tina Landau.
I must also confess, I learned more about the redwoods than I ever thought I could. For example, a redwood tree reaching the height of the Empire State Building has very shallow roots; but roots that intermingle and intertwine with the roots of other redwoods giving it stability; that the redwoods have a heart, resilience, are fire proof, and experience growth spurts even getting thru the most difficult of times, i.e., fires.
And so, it is here that we find Jesse, (Idina Menzel) an always in charge, A Type personality who can’t cope with her bosses demands, and is at wits ends trying to cope with the loss of her 23 year old son while not getting what the needs from her wife Mel (De’Adre Aziza), who wants to remember only the good times.
It is at this point Jesse takes off from her home in New York to parts unknown, stopping here and there and meeting up with a young man (Zachary Noah Piser) urging her on, before she finds herself in Eureka, Ca. resting at the foot of a giant Redwood. Her sleep is interrupted by two scientists, Finn and Becca (Michael Park and Nkeki Obi Melekwe) who are on sight studying the health of the redwoods for future generations. She is on private property and is told to leave, in no uncertain terms especially by no nonsense Becca.
|Idina Menzel and De'Adre Aziza
After trying to get her to leave, she finally convinces Finn, the botanist of the two, to let her stay and the longer she stays, it becomes a game changer for Jesse, who realizes that this is just what she needs in the way of her transforming her life. And yes, you guessed it, she too found herself learning to climb the giant redwood and even staying a night or two on a platform many feet above the ground.
I can imagine how exhilarating it was for Jesse, since at that moment, I could feel a rush within. And it is here that the visuals (Hana S. Kim, media designer) engulf you into the picture. Sitting in the front row I felt the world of the redwoods wash over me.
Malecio Estrella and Co. Bandaloop choreographed both movement and scaling the giant tree. Yes Jesse, Becca and Finn all had a part in the climbing to the awe of this reviewer. I can’t remember seeing anything like this in all my years of covering theatre even the play “K9” too many years ago at the once S.D. Rep. downtown.
The most disappointing element of the program is the music. There are more than a dozen songs written by Kate Diaz with lyrics by Tina Landau, with additional contributions by Menzel . That said most of the ‘dialogue’ is sung through and that was the most difficult for yours truly to hear and follow. Not -withstanding, most of the music sounded repetitive.
What did not disappoint was the amazing quality, overall, of the cast. Each and every one outstanding for their contributions.
What did not disappoint was Menzel, who is on stage throughout, as she finds her center and is able to show her vulnerability, her new strength, her core, her resilience and use her powerful voice.
|Michael Park and Idina Menzel
What did not disappoint was an emotional pull toward all of the characters even though some have less to do and say than others, but are necessary to the overall story.
One of the stronger and more forceful of the cast is Nkeki Obi Melekwe’s Becca who, surprisingly said she has a Jewish mother and was telling Jesse (assuming her character is also Jewish) to make sure she practiced Tikkun Olam or to repair and improve our broken world by acts of kindness and performing good deeds.
Park’s Finn is the balance between the three, kind, gentle patient and understanding and Zachary Noah Piser ( “Still”) shows up as several characters thru out and I will leave it at that (no spoilers).
It takes a village: Haley Bennett, Musical Director, Scenic Design, Jason Ardizzone, Costume Design, Toni-Leslie James, Lighting Design, Scott Zielinsky, Sound, Jonathan Deans, Hair Design, Geo Brian Hennings, Vertical Movement and Staging, Melecio Estrella Bandaloop.
|Nkeki Obi-Melekwe and Idina Menzel
Director Landau whose cast is excellent overall brings out the best and the worst that life throws at us. Menzel gives it her all finally reconciling her grief and hopefully ready to make the world and herself a better place in which to live.
See you at the theatre.
When: Runs through March 31. Show times vary.
Where: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
Tickets: Some tickets may be released daily.
Photo: Rich Soublet.