Strong voices carry new Playhouse musical 'Miss You Like Hell'

It’s always exciting when a world-premiere arrives in San Diego. Music fans will be even more excited as the world-premiere of “Miss You Like Hell” at La Jolla Playhouse through Dec. 4, features book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winner Quiara Alegría Hudes (“In the Heights,” “Water by the Spoonful”), and music by acclaimed singer/songwriter Erin McKeown.

Lear deBessonet directs, choreography by Danny Mefford.

The story unfolds like an artichoke, each layer a little different then the one before. Krystina Alabado (Broadway’s “American Psycho”) plays Olivia, a quiet, somewhat sad young lady whose mother left her with her dad years ago. When her mother Beatriz, played by two-time Tony Award nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (“RENT,” “Anna in the Tropics”) shows up realizing how much she’s missed her daughter, Olivia wants nothing to do with her.

They begin a conversation that is mostly Beatriz trying to make amends for her actions, and Olivia challenging her mother as if they were in a debate. Beatriz does a lot of singing to explain things, but that doesn’t really affect Olivia. She’s a smart teenager and her heart fears she will suffer more if she gives in to her mother and is abandoned once again.

After their lengthy dialogue, which includes a cast of misfits that come and go singing, dancing and sometimes talking to Beatriz and Oliva, Beatriz gets around to what she really wants — to take Olivia on a road journey in the old battered truck she arrived in from Mexico.

Oliva agrees, but only if they can go to Yellowstone National Park. Beatriz argues that’s too far. Nevertheless, they head off and Beatriz is singing her heart out while Olivia pouts and asks her mother more questions about being left behind. When Beatriz is pulled over by a police officer after she crashes the truck, she can’t produce any of the paperwork she needs, especially an ID that says she is not in America illegally.

More of the 10 cast members again make their presence singing and talking. It’s quite a group with weird clothes and actions, which seemed to have some of the more mature audience members asking each other what this is all about? When a few in that big group offer to help the women, it’s too late for Beatriz, who goes off in handcuffs.

Rubin-Vega as Beatriz is an exceptional singer and dancer, and her silly antics and I-don’t-care attitude brings many laughs to a situation that could be uninspiring. It sometimes feels like the story should have started before she arrives, just to see how Olivia lived after her mother left. Alabado has a great voice, too, but it was hard to hear her words sometimes, and she was just a tad too unruffled in some of the situations Beatriz gets her into — especially when she doesn’t know if her mother will be able to cross into the country again, and where will she go in the meantime.

“This is exactly the right time for this powerful, moving new musical that embraces our ever-evolving identities as families and Americans,” said Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley.

IF YOU GO: “Miss You Like Hell,” runs through Dec 4 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive on the UCSD campus. Tickets from $29. (858) 550-1010. lajollaplayhouse.org

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