Director Des McAnuff’s world-premiere musical production of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” at the La Jolla Playhouse is mesmerizing. Rarely have I seen an audience so enthralled that heads didn’t move, bodies didn’t twitch, and occasionally, I saw some folks wiping tears from their eyes. The story follows Yoshimi (Kimiko Glenn), a beautiful young Japanese artist stricken with lymphoma. Her doctor (Tom Hewitt) informs her that she’s in for the fight of her life, and likens the diseased cells in her body to pink robots.
Through the vision of McAnuff, with inspiration from the music of The Flaming Lips and leader Wayne Coyne, those robots – from a planet in the past – feature 3-D shell modeling and LED lights. They become actual creatures that participate in the telling of the story arranged from many of the band’s iconic tunes.
Combing science fiction, amazing scenic designs by Robert Brill, and natural, flowing choreography by Bradley Rapier, this show is unpredictable, engaging every minute. Romance also plays a big part in the story as Yoshimi has two suitors, but only one who will stick with her through her months of endless treatments and anguish.
Paul Nolan plays Ben, a guy who sees beyond Yoshimi’s ailments to the girl inside that he’s not shy about telling the world he loves. Nolan (“Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway and the La Jolla Playhouse) is a firecracker every time he takes the stage. What a voice. Every song sung, especially, “What is the Light,” oozed heartfelt emotion. His energy fuels every moment of the play.
Another guy, Booker (Nik Walker), a straight-up Wall Street-By-The-Numbers dude, also loves Yoshimi. He showers her with romantic caresses, but only shows his emotions to Yoshimi.
In addition to the fitting music and dance arrangements, directed by Ron Melrose, the story is told through many remarkable presentations. At times, the characters text each other and their messages are seen in big, black boxes on the stage. Stock market circuit boards, a moving floor vacuum, and large TV screens are some of the other technological gadgets incorporated into the story.
From puppeteer Basil Twist’s 14-foot creation of the 3000-21 robot that moves, talks and feels emotion — to the topnotch synchronization of the robots — to Glenn’s elegant and poignant portrayal of Yoshimi and the emotional tug at the end — this show is non-stop enchantment.
If you go
World premiere musical, ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ with the music of The Flaming Lips
Matinees/evenings to Dec. 16.
La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Theatre, UCSD campus