Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review of "Somewhere" - Hartford Stage

Dreams are sometimes all we can latch onto in life.  For the Candelaria family in Matthew Lopez’s new family drama, Somewhere, now at Hartford Stage through May 4th, dreams are what holds this family together, both individually and as a group, as they eke out an existence on the West Side of Manhattan in the area now known as Lincoln Center.

The time is the late 1950’s when such Broadway classics as Gypsy, The Music Man and, the show that resonates dearly to them, West Side Story, are all on The Great White Way.  The Candelarias, Puerto Rican immigrants, love the musical theater and daughter, Rebecca (Jessica Naimy), and younger son Francisco (Zachary Infante) have aspirations for making it big as a dancer and actor, respectively.  Inez, a more toned down version of Mama Rose from Gypsy, strongly encourages their hopes and ambitions.  The eldest son, Alejandro (Michael Rosen), is the only member of the household who actually performed on Broadway, as a child in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.  A once potentially gifted dancer, he is the man in charge.  With a father on the road, traveling the country as an itinerant performer, Alejandro works long hours, cooks, cleans, pays the bills, and tries to keep the family, including his quixotic mother, grounded in the realities of life.  During Act I, two significant changes whip through their small apartment.  The first is the re-emergence of Jamie, a young man raised by Inez, who is now an Assistant to Jerome Robbins, choreographer and director of West Side Story.  The second is an eviction notice from the city, condemning the neighborhood in which they live in order for urban planner Robert Moses to carry out his vision of a performing arts mecca to be built on the land.  The new site, the future home of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and Avery Fischer Hall would become known as Lincoln Center.  These compelling developments propel the theatrical thrust of Act II as issues are resolved, secrets revealed, and passions realized.

Playwright Matthew Lopez’s Candelaria family are, primarily, dancers. Throughout the production his characters regale each other with interludes from West Side Story as well as with other lightly choreographed numbers, which are very entertaining.  The storyline in Act I, slight as it may be, promises an interesting dramatic set-up for the remainder of the play. However, after intermission the author does not satisfactorily address some of the larger issues presented earlier in the show.  The result is a more muddled resolution, which seems forced and contrived.  The concluding scene brought back memories of the musical, A Chorus Line.  The connection to that landmark show is not just because of the grand finale but, Somewhere’s star, Pricilla Lopez, was the original Diana Morales who sang two of the most memorable songs from that production, “Nothing” and “What I Did For Love.”

Priscilla Lopez, a Tony Award winner for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, plays the matriarch, Inez Candelaria, as someone living in the present.  She pushes and she prods her children to believe in themselves and, more importantly, their dreams.  When Lopez steps on stage she immediately becomes the focus of our attention.  Radiant, carefree and, on the surface, she appears unencumbered by the duties and responsibilities of everyday life.  However, when necessary, the actress can quickly project a steely reserve.

Michael Rosen, as Alejandro, is tall, lean, with a dancer’s body that he uses to great affect at the show’s end.  He carries the weight of the family on his shoulders.  At times introspective, self-deprecating, and protective Rosen’s Alejandro occasionally ricochets from one emotional extreme to another, which comes across as somewhat artificial.  Jessica Naimy, is young, effervescent, and hopelessly optimistic as Rebecca.  There is not much depth to her character, but her portrayal of the blossoming teenager is real and intoxicating.  Zachary Infante, as Francisco, is an energetic whirligig.  He demonstrates fine comic timing and enthusiasm.  His initial entrance is a riot.  Jamie, portrayed by Carry Tedder, is the less-developed character in Somewhere.  He is called upon to be goofy, introspective, and a cheerleader for members of the Candelaria clan, which he handles with aplomb.  But his role needs more sharpening and purpose within the context of the entire play.

Director Giovanna Sardelli focuses on movement throughout the production--how the performers flow and transition through the one-bedroom apartment.  During Act I, which has a better structured set-up, Sardelli effortlessly guides the production to its harried ending.  But with the second act the pacing becomes more labored as the script is in need of further refinement.   

Greg Graham’s choreograph runs the gamut from muscled athleticism to the charming and witty.  He successfully integrates the dance numbers effortlessly into the show.  As conceived, the play’s essence is totally wrapped up in his choreographic creations.  His end-of-show flourish is a joy to behold, a final dreamscape from a family of dreamers.

Somewhere, an entertaining and engaging show with winning performances that, nonetheless, needs more focus and thought to achieve its intended emotional ambitions.

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