Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Southern California’s production of Redwood is a cut above

The world premiere of the musical Redwood at Southern California’s Jolla Playhouse was worth its two-decade journey to the stage.

Tina Landau, who provided the book and direction, has painstakingly brought the beauty of Northern California redwood trees lovingly to the stage. The trees play a pivotal role in the musical and Landau is able to educate us on the life of trees without sounding preachy.
Landau achieves all of these feats thanks to her partnership with people on and off the stage.

Our lead star is Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel, who came up with the concept alongside Landau. All who love theatre have a build-in admiration for the superior talents of Menzel, the voice behind Wicked and Frozen.

Menzel plays a woman who has yet to face the grief she’s encountered, which makes her easily fed up with her job and able to suddenly go on a road trip, even at the emotional expense of her wife.

On the road, after several moments of constant reminders of her loss and pain, she bonds with some people who work in the park’s department and grows a kinship with a tree, whom she names Stella.

The sparse set by Jason Ardizzone-West comes to life when the tree takes stage. Not only is there a beautifully constructed redwood tree center stage, but Scott Zielinski’s lighting design gives it additional depth and dimensions and as Menzel climbs the tree, we see the beauty of the world from above the clouds as she does.

This is a magical theatre moment on par with the chandelier of Phantom of the Opera or the barricade of Les Miserables. It adds realness to the show, making us feel we’re on top of the world with Menzel.

Voice-wise, it’s no surprise Menzel soars. She is one of the best voices of our time. So it’s not surprising that she wouldn’t sing if the songs weren’t worthy of her talents. And they are.  Each song tells a story and offers a lot of insight and back-story to Mendez’s character and her featured actors. Some of the lyrics of Landau, with co-lyricist Kate Diaz, hit us on an emotional level.

Without spoiling anything, the final big song will likely bring you to tears with its poignant lyrics and tender tone. Surprisingly, it isn’t given to Menzel to sing (although she joins in) but is a sweet ballad with poignant lyrics sung by her co-star Zachary Noah Piser. 

La Jolla is often one of the cities that has Broadway-bound out-of-town tryouts. I couldn’t find any information if this is Broadway-bound. If it’s not, it should be.

Get tickets at Redwood which now runs through March 31 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, www.reelkev.com and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for Examiner.com and contributes to progressivepulse.com as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 157 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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