Seattle Rep’s ‘Lydia and the Troll’ Directed by Ameenah Kaplan, has Catchy Tunes, Emotional Story

May 16, 2023 at 6:00 am – Review by Dusty Somers, read the full article from The Seattle Times here

Adam Standley and Janet Krupin in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)
Adam Standley and Janet Krupin in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)

There’s a malevolent force lurking in the shadows in Justin Huertas’ new musical, “Lydia and the Troll,” aiming to steal the abilities and derail the plans of our not-so-intrepid protagonist. Non-spoiler alert: It’s the troll. But it could also be smothering insecurity, and if you think these concepts are tied together by flimsy metaphor, you probably haven’t seen a Huertas show.

“Lydia and the Troll,” now onstage in a world-premiere production at Seattle Rep, bears all the traits of the Huertas brand: a whimsical fantasy world populated by all-too-human characters, irrepressibly catchy numbers that don’t skimp on the lyrical complexity, and a light touch that tells stories with capital-E emotions, minus the sentimentality.

It’s been an eventful near-decade for Huertas since Seattle Rep first commissioned “Lydia and the Troll” in 2015, shortly after staging his breakthrough “Lizard Boy.” “Lydia” was announced, then pulled from the Rep’s 2019 season, then announced again for what would be a COVID-thwarted 2020 season. In the meantime, Huertas staged several original shows at ArtsWest, premiered the new musical “The Mortification of Fovea Munson” with collaborator Steven Tran at the Kennedy Center, and landed an off-Broadway production for “Lizard Boy,” opening in June.

But at last, “Lydia and the Troll” is here, directed by co-creator Ameenah Kaplan to draw out the grace notes amid the propulsive pacing.

Sarah Russell as Lydia in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)
Sarah Russell as Lydia in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)

Like “Lizard Boy,” this show is essentially a three-hander. Lydia (Sarah Russell) is an aspiring music producer whose shot at a lucrative songwriting grant hinges on her ability to pen a new tune before the showcase at Columbia City Theater — tomorrow. Her boyfriend Pete (Adam Standley) — who, like Lydia, is recovering from alcoholism — feels their connection drifting, even as he makes bigger plans for the future. And then there’s Jane (Janet Krupin), who sees Lydia’s music livestream and feels an instant connection.

But Jane is no ordinary fan. She’s not even human.

Janet Krupin as Jane in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)
Janet Krupin as Jane in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)

Huertas excels at economically elucidating his fantasy realms and their rules, as he does here with Jane’s opening number that sets the scene: She’s a troll who’s taken over a human’s body, but she only gets 20 years before she must find a new vessel. Time’s almost up, and if she can’t persuade a new victim to share a deep secret, she’ll revert into a hulking, hideous creature.

Fortunately for one of them, Lydia isn’t great at keeping secrets. And as she struggles to come up with ideas for her songwriting showcase, she’s drawn to Jane’s seemingly dependable listening ear. Russell’s performance acutely accesses Lydia’s self-doubt — about her talent, her relationships, the way her Blackness will be perceived by industry gatekeepers — and strikingly contrasts it with her assured, sterling singing voice.

Janet Krupin as Jane and Sarah Russell as Lydia in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)
Janet Krupin as Jane and Sarah Russell as Lydia in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)

Huertas’ songs (with music supervisor Tran providing additional music) for Lydia are anthemic indie pop numbers with minor-chord energy. “I think most of my love songs are about breakups,” Lydia admits to Jane.

For Pete, the love songs he sings are more like veiled threats, an emo-inflected ballad suddenly flooded with car-crash imagery and an ode to the future with Lydia built around indulging their worst impulses. Standley’s blithe physical comedy chops sit uncomfortably next to Pete’s toxic, manipulative tendencies.

Sarah Russell as Lydia and Adam Standley as Pete in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)
Sarah Russell as Lydia and Adam Standley as Pete in “Lydia and the Troll” at Seattle Rep. (Bronwen Houck / Seattle Rep)

Less complicated but more fun: the villain, and Krupin is clearly enjoying herself, bringing a slinky aura and a powerhouse voice to her songs’ dark synths and dubstep beats. Sure, she’s evil, but kind of likably so?

The show’s fantastical elements are brought to life by Guy Garrison’s cutout puppets, silhouetted against panels to depict the troll’s true form or used to amp up action sequences like a late-night Lime bike chase across town. Performed by puppeteers Garrison and Sophia Franzella, these elements add a wonderfully tactile quality to a staging that’s otherwise heavily reliant on projections. But they can feel a little incidental to some key scenes, with transmogrifications and body swaps largely left to the imagination.

This is in keeping with Huertas’ preference for the meaningful over the spectacular, though a late appearance by a local landmark certainly qualifies as some well-earned spectacle. It’s the kind of climax that seems tailor-made to be accompanied by a happily-ever-after swell of passion. If that’s what you’re expecting, you probably haven’t seen a Huertas show.

“Lydia and the Troll”

Book, music and lyrics by Justin Huertas, directed by Ameenah Kaplan. Through June 11; Seattle Rep, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $57-$87; 206-443-2222,

VIDEO: First Look at Seattle Rep’s LYDIA AND THE TROLL, Directed by Ameenah Kaplan

Get a first look as Seattle Rep closes their 2022/23 season with Lydia and the Troll, a brand new musical by local playwright and composer Justin Huertas (Seattle Rep: Lizard Boy).

Set in neighborhoods across Seattle, this fantasy and folklore-inspired musical is about a Black, female, aspiring music producer and is grounded in Seattle’s noted landscape and landmarks.

The creative team features Justin Huertas (Book, Music & Lyrics); Ameenah Kaplan (Co-Creator & Director); Steven Tran (Additional Music, Music Production & Music Supervision); Guy Garrison (Puppet Creator); Elisa Money (Associate Music Director & Conductor); Jessica C. Bomball (Stage Manager); Bryce Cutler (Scenic/Projections Designer); Danielle Nieves (Costume Designer); Robert J. Aguilar (Lighting Designer); Erin Bednarz (Sound Designer); Cherelle D. Guyton, MBA (Hair/Wig & Makeup Designer); and Malie Fujii (Assistant Stage Manager.)

Throughout the run of this show, Seattle Rep will host a series of events including a Teen Night (June 2, 2023) in partnership with TeenTix for which teenagers can purchase $5 tickets to experience the show. Seattle Rep will also host a Composer and Theatemarkers Speed Networking Event and Post-Show Actor Talk and on May 25, ASL-interpreted performance on May 27, Open Captioning on May 4, and more. Learn more here >>

Single tickets and season subscriptions are on sale now online at or by calling the Patron Services Office at 206.443.2222.

‘Opera for All’ Maryland Opera Studio to Perform Contemporary Works in Weekend Dedicated to Female Composers ‘Opera for All’

illustration of woman in water
The best-known opera composers tend to have one thing in common: They’re men. This weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio presents new works by New York-based female composers Justine F. Chen and Missy Mazzoli.
“TWA” graphic by Eric Wheatley

From Claudio Monteverdi to Benjamin Britten, the classical music canon’s best-known opera composers tend to have one thing in common: They’re men.

This weekend, the University of Maryland’s Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presents new works by New York-based female composers Justine F. Chen and Missy Mazzoli. Though both operas take on timeless themes—including love, jealousy and the pursuit of wealth—and are at least partially set in the past, they aim to resonate with modern audiences.

“These works show opera is still living and breathing,” said soprano Kira Neary, a second-year Master of Music student who will perform in Mazzoli’s “Proving Up” on Saturday night. The 2018 piece, which The Washington Post called “a true opera of our time,” is a commentary on the American dream as experienced by the Zegners, a fictional family of 1860s homesteaders.

“Of course, there will always be a certain joy for me in performing works from the 18th and 19th centuries,” Neary said, “but there is something so exciting about a work written by a young, contemporary voice, with a message that is so timely.”

Chen’s “TWA,” commissioned by MOS and composed in collaboration with its singers, was inspired by the historic folk ballad “The Twa Sisters,” which recounts the tale of a girl drowned by her lovesick, jealous sister.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have such a well-established composer write a work for our singers,” said MOS Director Craig Kier. “This is our form of scholarship. This is our form of research. And this is our way of moving the operatic canon forward.”

Chen signed on librettist Jaqueline Goldfinger to create an episodic work in two acts. The first retells the dramatic tale, while the second looks at the story through the present-day lens of social media and internet trolls.

“I want to make opera something that everyone feels is relevant to their lives now,” said Goldfinger. “Canonical works are great works, and they should be performed. But if we’re making something new for today’s audiences, it should reflect their lives. This is really an opera for all.”

Throughout the process, Chen and Goldfinger met with MOS students, individually and as a group. Chen called the singers “fascinating individuals” and said: “I’m so happy to be working with them.”

For first-year Master of Music student Claire Marguerite Iverson, a soprano who will perform in “TWA” as a sister in the present-day, working with Chen and Goldfinger has been unforgettable.

“As singers, we can be left wondering what composers like Mozart intended, but seeing an actual person as they try and understand how they want to tell a story is amazing,” she said. “We’ve seen it come to life in front of our eyes.”

Article by Jessica Weis ’05 for the University of Maryland’s Maryland Today.

Silicon Valley TheatreWorks’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ Directed by Jeffrey Lo, is a kick in the plants

Audrey II (voiced by Katrina Lauren McGraw, puppeteered by Brandon Leland, puppet by Matthew McAvene Creations) demands food from Seymour (Phil Wong) in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” (photo: Kevin Berne)

Forget the poinsettias and celebrate this holiday season with an Audrey II. Perennial stage favorite “Little Shop of Horrors” is blooming in the Bay Area for a second time this year (Another production was mounted at the Berkeley Playhouse in the spring) at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley), and for good reason.

With its pop-culture savvy book and lyrics by the late gay writer Howard Ashman, a zippy 1950s pastiche score by Alan Menken and an off-kilter monster movie-meets-“Sesame Street” scenario adapted from Roger Corman’s grindhouse classic, “Little Shop” offers family-friendly entertainment (Let’s say for ages 10 and up) with a full stratum of funny subterranean dirt for adults to dig while the kids remain oblivious.

Chief among the musical’s adult pleasures is the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello, played here to puffed up perfection by Nick Nakashima. Under the wise direction of Jeffrey Lo, he combines the looming but cartoonish physical presence of a parade float with an endlessly elastic repertoire of facial expressions to simultaneously portray and undermine his potentially problematic character. (Orin physically and psychologically abuses shop girl Audrey, played by Sumi Yu, who effectively conveys a growing confidence as the show progresses).

Late in the second act, Nakashima nearly steals the show altogether, unexpectedly popping up in three smaller roles —one of which is female— in rapid succession. But complete larceny is impossible given the wealth of talent on stage here.

In addition to Yu, whose comic sweetness feels entirely natural, Phil Wong turns in a deliciously self-conscious Seymour, keeping you on his side even when his dorkyness turns to darkness; and the Motown Greek chorus of Ronette, Chiffon and Crystal (Lucca Troutman, Alia Hodge and Naima Alakham) aces their giggle-inducing blend of choreographic slinkiness and editorial side-eye.

Audrey (Sumi Yu), Seymour (Phil Wong), and Mr. Mushnik (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) investigate an unusual plant (puppet by Matthew McAvene Creations) in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” (photo: Kevin Berne)  

If Ashman and Menken, who also wrote the lyrics and music for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid,” are role models for teamwork, their standard is lived up to by this production’s puppetry crew. Matthew McAvenue Creations’ design, Brandon Leland’s remarkably expressive manipulation and Katrina Lauren McGraw’s disco diva vocals combine to give Audrey II, the man-eating plant, an alluring vegetal vavoom.

As Mr. Mushnik, Seymour and Audrey’s boss, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias’ turns in another yet another laugh-out-loud performance. He takes a character usually played with the exaggerated shtetl schmaltz of a downtown Tevye and instead pushes the caricature full-on Filipino, complete with thick accent (Think: “Ip I were a rich man!”).

Director Lo’s decision to make this switch from “Oy!” to Pinoy, trading one comic stereotype for another, feels clever given Arias’ background, and inoffensive given the show’s broad brush humor (The character’s name remains Mushnik; Wong’s Chinese-American Seymour’s similarly semitic surname is “Krelborn”).

Unfortunately, in marketing this otherwise top-notch production, Lo and TheatreWorks have effortfully stressed the fact that they’ve set their “Little Shop” in San Francisco’s Chinatown and cast mainly AAPI actors. It’s great to see representation, but other than a bit of set-dressing —a tail-wagging cat clock, a mural of Bruce Lee, Chinese characters on store signage— the shift feels largely irrelevant otherwise.

There’s a little rainbow flag by the cash register and a photo of Harvey Milk (next to a headshot of former SF Giants’ Tim Lincecum) pinned to the flower shop wall; a nice little bit of queer and local representation on stage, yes. But is there any deep meaning? Might Mushnik be growing pansies? I noticed these clever details without a press release extolling their virtues.

“Little Shop” is a smart, silly comedy. TheaterWorks’ noise about its version subtly addressing issues including Chinatown gentrification and domestic violence in the Asian-American community feels overstated and unattractively opportunistic. There’s a theater marketing strategist who deserves a meeting with Audrey II.

‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ through Dec. 24. $30-$100. Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. (877) 662-8978

Article by Jim Gladstone for The Bay Area Reporter

‘The Wiz’ Aims for Broadway After a U.S. Tour

Schele Williams will direct and JaQuel Knight is choreographing a new production of the show, with additional material by Amber Ruffin. It will start its tour in Baltimore.

From left, Nipsey Russell as Tinman, Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow filming “The Wiz” in 1977. A new production of the musical will have a pre-Broadway national tour next year.

The Tony Award-winning musical “The Wiz” will be landing on Broadway for a limited run in the spring of 2024, after a national tour next year, producers announced on Thursday. The tour will start in Baltimore, where the musical made its original debut.

“The Wiz,” inspired by L. Frank Baum’s children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” had an all-Black cast, and premiered on Broadway in 1975. It netted seven Tonys, including best musical.

For the director of this reimagined “The Wiz,” Schele Williams, the work is personal. “I wouldn’t be on Broadway if it wasn’t for ‘The Wiz,’” Williams said in a statement, adding, “Seeing that show changed my life.”

Williams is a founding member of Black Theater United and serves on the board of trustees for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This will be the first time she has directed a show on Broadway; she previously served as an associate director on the Broadway production of “Motown: The Musical,” and she performed on Broadway in “Aida” and “Rent.”

This version of the musical is choreographed by JaQuel Knight and contains musical arrangements, music supervision and orchestrations by Joseph Joubert. It will also feature additional material by Amber Ruffin, and the original Tony-winning score by Charlie Smalls.

The original show ran for four years and had 1,672 performances on Broadway. In 1978, a film adaptation included stars like Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Richard Pryor and Lena Horne.

Article by Khalia Richardson for the New York Times.