“Miss You Like Hell,” a new musical by “In The Heights” book writer Quiara Alegría Hudes and singer-songwriter Erin McKeown, depicts the most American of adventures, the road trip. But this road trip takes place in the America of today, and so the discoveries and self-discovery are edged with some dark realities.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, portraying one of her most vibrant original characters since her Broadway debut in “Rent,” is Beatriz Santiago, a Mexican immigrant mother who drives from California to Philadelphia to pick up her troubled 16-year-old daughter, Olivia (the terrific Gizel Jiménez.) They have not seen each other for four years – Olivia’s American-born father has sole custody of her – but Beatriz has been reading Olivia’s blog, in which she asked her readers whether she should jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge. And so Beatriz insists that Olivia accompany her on a cross-country trip over the next seven days.
To her mother, Olivia is “a damaged girl. She doesn’t know how to comb her hair.” To her daughter, Beatriz is “the Michelangelo of self-interest,” whom Olivia resents for abandoning her. They get to know and understand each other better – and we learn the more complicated truths of each character – as they travel along what one of the songs calls “the mythical the difficult the derelict American road.”
Their adventures include officiating at the wedding of a gay couple (Michael Mulherin and David Patrick) celebrating their 50th anniversary, in the song “My Bell’s Been Rung.” . They are themselves on a road trip – “50 states, 50 weddings.”
Beatriz meets Manuel (Danny Bolero) a tamales vendor, who is an immigrant from Peru and a widower. After he sings the lovely ballad “Tamales,” a love affair seems inevitable.
Olivia meets up with Pearl (Latoya Edwards), an African-American who is one of Olivia’s blog followers, at Yellowstone Park, where as a junior park ranger she lectures on the 9th Cavalry, the all-black regiment of the first-ever park rangers in the nation. Beatriz and Olivia’s experiences – and the cast – reflect the diversity that is America.
They also have misadventures – a crash, a turtle homicide, an encounter with a police officer in Wisconsin, a frustrating defeat in a courthouse in South Dakota. These last two experiences are entirely connected with Beatriz’s immigration status, a glimpse of what life is like for an immigrant without documents. A threat looms; the clock ticks. To her shock, Olivia learns that the seven-day duration of this trip was no accident. Beatriz is due for a hearing in L.A. in seven days that will determine whether she will be deported. Beatriz did want to reconnect with her daughter. But she also needs a character witness.
As directed by Lear deBessonet, “Miss You Like Hell” is full of exuberance and heart and good intentions. The exuberance is at times a bit too reminiscent of a cloying show like “Up With People,” especially since the ensemble members back up the songs with gusto and without the aid through most of the show of anything resembling a set. McKeown’s score is a mix of upbeat jazz and rocking country and sad Broadway ballad. She and Hudes offer poetic lyrics that serve as counterpoint to the snappy, street-smart dialogue. To their credit, “Miss You Like Hell” ultimately refuses to submit to the uplift that theatergoers have come to expect from a musical. One fascinating footnote: One of the few sets we don’t have to imagine is a border wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. East Coast theatergoers should know that this is not a cautionary tale about the near future. The wall on stage represents a real border “fence” that already exists, in a place between Tijuana and San Diego called Friendship Park.
Miss You Like Hell
Book & Lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music & Lyrics by Erin McKeown
Choreography by Danny Mefford
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Cast: Marinda Anderson, Danny Bolero, Andrew Cristi, Latoya Edwards, Shawna M. Hamic, Marcus Paul James, Gizel Jiménez as Olivia, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Mulheren, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Beatriz, and Martín Solá
Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design by Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design by Jessica Paz
Hair and Makeup Design by J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova
Co-Orchestrations by Charlie Rosen & Erin McKeown
Music Coordinator: Michael Aarons
Music Director: Cody Owen Stine
Music Supervisor and Additional Arrangements: Julie McBride
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission
Tickets: $70 – $150. Rush: $20
Miss You Like Hell is scheduled through May 13, 2018