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A CurtainUp Review
Miss You Like Hell
By Elyse Sommer
Their musical, now called Miss You Like Hell, changed many plot details but was still the story of the fiery, literature loving Mexican immigrant Beatritz on a mission to reignite her bond with Olivia, the troubled teen aged daughter she hasn't seen in four years. Since the 40-something Beatriz and Olivia's father were never married, she not only lost custody of Olivia when they separated, but remained an undocumented immigrant. That's why she's desperate not only to reconnect with her daughter but also win her support for a last ditch effort to avoid being deported because of a minor misdemeanor (smoking in Yellowstone Park when she was 19).
The problem of citizenship for immigrants with a criminal offense record, no matter how small, was a problem even when Hudes and McKeown wrote Miss You Like Hell in 2011. It was therefore an important plot element to make the viewer understand Beatriz's urgency about initiating this cross-country bonding trip. Having followed Olivia's blog, she feels the girl needs her love and help immediately, but she also needs Olivia's help so hopes that by the time they get to California Olivia will be persuaded to be a character witness at the courtroom hearing where Beatriz faces deportation because of that Marijuana mishap.
But the real world caught up with Beatriz and Olivia's story. Donald Trump was not yet in the White House when the show opened at the LaJolla Playhouse. However, by the time that premiere run ended the Trump Administration's draconian measures vis-a-vis immigrants saw undocumented immigrants deported in record numbers — including those like Beatriz with minor offenses on their records.
Naturally, there are always changes when a show moves from its premiere home to Broadway or a prestigious Off-Broadway theater, like the Public's Newman Theater where Miss You Like Hell is now in its New York debut. The staging may need to be reconceived to fit the new venue. Some or all of the cast can change.
But the changes the current political administration has brought to the American landscape called for more than a nip and tuck to make Beatriz's immigration problems more fully reflect how this very personal story has become an inseparable part of the larger historical story of today's America. Hudes and McKeown went back to their keyboards to further integrate the all too pertinent elements into their show.
Fortunately Daphne Rubin-Vega once again lends her magnetic persona and powerful voice to the main character, and the lovely and golden-voiced Gizel Jiménez, this production's Olivia, is very much a star in the making. Also aboard are Director Lear deBessonet, choreographer Danny Mefford, and one of the original's most watchable ensemble players, David Patrick Kelly.
The current scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez has configured the Newman stage so that the playing area is surrounded on three sides: several rows of seats are occupied by audience members and the small, string heavy, orchestra sits at the rear end, along with the eight ensemble players who, besides taking on various roles move the occasional very simple props. There is one spectacular prop rolled out for the epilogue that unapologetically pushes the button guaranteed to pull at your heartstrings and underscore and bold face the show's social timeliness. The floor of the thus mostly barren as the stretches of highway a trip like this passes does have a revolving a section, the main purpose of which seems to be to accommodate Danny Mefford's movement choreography for the ensemble.
While not an especially eye-popping setup, this staging concept does create an aura of Americans everywhere seeing the escalation of immigrant families through the lens of this mother and daughter's experience. The diversity of the cast in terms of age, physical size and skin color, as well as the pot pourri of musical styles supports the idea of theater as an integral part of the American experience.
Using the template of the road trip as well as Olivia's popular blog for "Castaways" to propel the plot, provides the show with some amusing as well as scary encounters. Unfortunately, some of work better than others.
The scenes that do work include the meetup with the two gay man (David Patrick Kelly and Michael Mulheren) on their own journey to repeat their marriage vows in every state, and the Yellowstone Park stopover where Pearl (Latoya Edwards), an active member of Olivia's blog is employed. Ultimately, even though the mother-daughter interchanges aren't flawless, the scenes in which anger, regrets and love unfold are the most satisfying.
The show's breakout song, "Over My Shoulder," about Beatriz's deportation fears, was part of the premiere production and so made eerily prescient when in June 2017 U.S. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director Thomas Homan's on the anniversary of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) told Congress that undocumented immigrants living in the United Stages should look over their shoulders and be worried.
The merger of reflections about how misunderstandings can create walls that can destroy a family just like the physical walls built by insensitive politicians, may be a bit too obvious and hokey. But there's enough that's genuinely moving to make I'll Miss You Like Hell a moving and worth seeing theatrical outing.
Links to Quiara Alegría Hudes work reviewd at Curtainup:
Daphne's Dive which also starred Daphne Rubin-Vega
The Pulitzer Prize winning Water by the Spoonful, part of Hudes's Puerto Ricantrilogy
In the Heights Lin Manuel Miranda's first musical for which she wrote the book.
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Miss You Like Hell
Book and lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music and lyrics by Erin McKeown
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Choreographed by Danny Mefford
Cast:Daphne Rubin-Vega (Beatriz), Gizel J Jiménez(Olivia) Marinda Anderson (Lawyer),Danny Bolero (Manuel), Andrew Cristi (Motel Desk Guy), Latoya Edwards (Pearl), Shawna M. Hamic (Legal Clerk), Marcus Paul James (Police Officer), David Patrick Kelly(Higgins).
Scenic Design: Riccardo Henandez
Costumes: Emilio Sosa
Lighting: Tyler Micoleau
Sound: Jessica Paz
Hair & Makeup:J. Jared Janas &Dave Bova
Music Coordinator: Michael Aarons
Music and Orchestra Director: Cody Owen Stine
Stage Manager: Scott Taylor Rollison
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
Public's Newman Theater 425 Lafayette St, (212) 967-7555
From 3/20/18; opening 4/10/18; closing 5/06/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 8 press preview
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