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Theater review: 'Somewhere' at the Old Globe

October 5, 2011 |  4:15 pm

Somewhere 1 

This review has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

SAN DIEGO -- At dinner in the Candelaria home, Inez (Priscilla Lopez) asks for God's blessing not just for her three children but also for Chita Rivera, President Eisenhower and Cary Grant. She puts in a special word for her daughter, Rebecca (Benita Robledo), who's auditioning for the touring company of the new hit “West Side Story” — a prospect more exciting to this bubbly stage mother than winning the lottery.

“Somewhere,” Matthew Lopez's often charming though overstuffed drama now receiving its world premiere at the Old Globe, takes place in a poor, showbiz-obsessed household on the West Side of Manhattan during the Golden Age of the American musical. It's 1959, and Broadway is surging with the talents of Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. The excitement generated by “West Side Story” is keenly felt by the Candelarias, thrilled to see cultural reflections of their Latino lives in an America that isn't always good at keeping promises.

Times are tough for the family. Inez's husband has left for California and doesn't appear to be sending for her and the children any time soon. Worse, their apartment complex is slated for demolition to make way for Lincoln Center, which will displace low-income residents like the Candelarias to housing projects a long subway ride from the theater district.

Somewhere2As Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie” seeks refuge in the illusory glamour of her Southern past, so Inez finds solace in the magic of musicals. Whenever she can, she ushers for Broadway shows, blasts an original cast album or extols Ethel Merman — anything to take her mind off the wrecking ball aimed at her bedroom window. Her dream for her children isn't that they'll earn college scholarships but that they'll get cast in a blockbuster or sell a screenplay.

Francisco (Juan Javier Cardenas), Inez's eldest son, is an aspiring actor who'd rather rehearse scenes made famous by Marlon Brando than take an extra shift at work. Alejandro (Jon Rua), Francisco's slightly younger brother who appeared on Broadway in “The King and I” as a kid but has lately lost his theatrical sparkle, spends much of his time at home smoking on the fire escape and brooding over his family's problems and the movie he's trying to write. Rebecca is determined to be a Broadway hoofer, and now that Jamie MacRae (Leo Ash Evens), an old friend of the family, is working as Jerome Robbins' assistant, she just might get her lucky break.

Lopez has written both a sprawling family drama and a coming-of-age story. There's nothing incompatible in this pursuit, but he doesn't get the proportions right. It's not clear for some time that Alejandro is the protagonist in large part because his withdrawn nature is easily eclipsed by the more flamboyant personalities around him. While they're dancing and acting their hearts out, he's balled up in a corner worrying about the Housing Authority notices.

Tennessee Williams made Tom the narrator of “The Glass Menagerie,” ensuring that this quietly somber writer wouldn't be completely upstaged by Amanda's histrionics and Laura's delicate poignancy. Lopez, on the other hand, allows the Candelarias to run riot onstage for so long that he's forced to have Alejandro step forward and enunciate such ponderous lines as, “What if our dreams aren't realistic?” and “But when do you know it's time to stop dreaming?” to get the poor guy noticed. (For those in the audience who may have been dozing, Alejandro is also called upon to provide a recap: “Pop's been gone over a year. We've got no money. And we're being kicked out of our home.”)

“Somewhere” has an ebullient flair, but the structural discipline it imposes is rather rudimentary. Lopez, whose play “The Whipping Man” has had productions at the Old Globe and Manhattan Theatre Club, is an original talent, but he still relies on hoary conventions. Melodramatic touches abound, and the play's conclusion involving the absent father is evident long before it's spelled out.

The production, directed by Giovanna Sardelli, who also staged “The Whipping Man” in San Diego, draws out the best and worst in the writing. It's both charmingly theatrical and vexingly indulgent. Fortunately, Greg Graham's choreography, zigzagging through Campbell Baird's cramped tenement set, is so fleetly inventive that it's hard to get too impatient at anything.

Priscilla Lopez, a Broadway veteran whose many credits include “A Chorus Line” and “In the Heights,” is the playwright's aunt, and she inhabits the Candelaria world as though she were born into it. Rua, another “In the Heights” alum, is also excellent, though his role is less fully realized. It helps that he's a versatile dancer, hopping on tables and soft-shoeing as though this were the age of Fred Astaire, but it's too bad that Alejandro's internal journey is submerged for long stretches.

The rest of the cast is solid, though Cardenas could use some reining in. His character is especially boisterous, but the actor substitutes volume for control. Evens, an agile mover able to suggest entire dances with just a few steps, and Robledo, believable as a dainty Shark girl, grow in our affections over time.

“Somewhere” has plenty of winning attributes, but they'd be more enjoyable if the playwright could dust off and consolidate his dramatic formula.

[For the record, 4:28 p.m., Oct 5: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of Matthew Lopez's earlier play, "The Whipping Man.]

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--Charles McNulty

twitter.com\charlesmcnulty
charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

"Somewhere," The Old Globe, Balboa Park, San Diego. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets start at $29. (619) 234-5623 or www.theoldglobe.org
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Photo: Priscilla Lopez and Jon Rua. Bottom: Juan Javier Cardenas and Rua. Credit: Henry DiRocco

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