La Jolla Playhouse Debuts World Premiere Musical, The Outsiders

Bringing a New Artistic Take on the Classic Story with an Impressive, High-Caliber Production 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Cast members in THE OUTSIDERS; photo by Rich Soublet II.
The Playhouse is known for incubating blockbuster productions that transfer to Broadway and as with all new things, you get a little bit of everything. Some pieces need a rewrite here and a tweak there... with their latest premiere The Outsiders, I had not seen something so round since Come From Away. This production has many key elements: harmony, musicality, choreography, lighting, set design, and what brings it together, high-caliber artistry. 
Based on S.E. Hinton’s novel -which she wrote at 16 years old and celebrated the 50th-anniversary edition in 2017-, and the film adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the musical features a book by Adam Rapp, music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival duo Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, and Justin Levine. In Spanish the title of the movie was "Los Marginados", the marginalized, the excluded, the alienated... even though they are all synonyms, each word hits differently. The teens that feature in this story are marginalized and alienated. Now here is the kicker: I had never heard of the book or the movie! The movie, I do not understand why, the book... well, I did not go to school here! So my point is, I did not have anything to compare the musical to. You can say I saw it with fully fresh eyes.

(L-R) Ryan Vasquez, Brody Grant, Jason Schmidt and Daryl Tofa in THE OUTSIDERS;
photo by Rich Soublet II.
The story takes place in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1967 with the audience being immersed in a movie theatre with the film Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman, Ponyboy's favorite actor. Ponyboy Curtis (Brody Grant) and his two older brothers,  Darrel (Ryan Vasquez), and Sodapop (Jason Schmidt) are struggling to survive as they were left orphaned due to a car accident. Darrel and Sodapop dropped out of school to get jobs to pay the mortgage, and have Ponyboy stay in school. All three are good kids and Ponyboy loves to read and is doing well in school being a fan of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and the American poet Robert Frost. The thing is, the Curtis boys are "greasers", part of the alienated, underprivileged group on the East side, also known as the archenemies of the "socs" (short for socials and pronounced "soshie") the rich, entitled kids in Tulsa who are always up to no good, you would think it is the opposite. One night, Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch) are attacked by the socs and while they are trying to drown Ponyboy, Johnny reacts quickly and kills soc leader Bob (Kevin William Paul) with a knife that Dallas (Da'von T. Moody), an older brother type greaser gave to him for protection. They flee the city and while hiding in a church that catches fire during a field trip, Johnny saves a little girl, and both greasers are cleared and go back home. If things were bad before the stabbing, they get worse and Ponyboy sees life through a more transparent lens.
The stabbing from Johnny in defense of Ponyboy made me think, what would have happened if it was the other way around? If Bob had killed Ponyboy or stabbed Johnny, would that have had a different outcome? it lingered in my brain for a while...

The musical develops in two acts and 21 songs set in a junkyard/playground with monkey bars and two cars. Tatiana Kahvegian's set design is both original and somber using different shades of brown where it feels like you could smell the dirt and the rusted metal. Isabella Byrd's lighting design softly caresses each character and pops every suspenseful scene sharply. One of which is the infamous rumble for the territory between both gangs as water pours on the stage simulating rain while punches are flying and screams belting. Between the effect itself of the rain by Jeremy Chernick, special effects designer, and Justin Ellington's sound design, not only are audiences enthralled but not a single gasp could be heard aside from what was happening onstage at that moment. Beautifully done. 

Cast members in THE OUTSIDERS; photo by Rich Soublet II.
Outsiders' is also extremely physical. Rick Kuperman & Jeff Kuperman's choreography is challenging and very bold with precise, marked steps, flips, and jumps that add to the tension everyone is feeling. Each song in the piece has its own personality and for me, the songs that I appreciated the most not only because of the lyrics and sound but because of the creative angle, like Great Expectations alluding to Ponyboy's favorite novel and how he relates that to life. The song is high pitched, very beltie, and fantastically performed by Brody Grant. Even made me think if he could keep that up every night. Definitely not an easy song to perform but a great one, I could hear it on loop all day. Stay Gold, is another really cool song inspired by Ponyboy's favorite poem by Frost, Nothing Gold Can StayJamestown Revival along with Levine definitely imprinted the country folkie feel in the songs. I greatly appreciate these creative efforts as the work becomes even more special. 
The cast is made of impressive, high-caliber young artists: Daniel Marconi, Kevin William Paul, Brent Comer, Ryan Vasquez, Da’Von T. Moody, Jason Schmidt, Trevor McGhie, Piper Patterson, Kiki Lemieux, and ensemble members: Annelise Baker, Barton Cowperthwaite, Tilly EvansKrueger, Sean H. Jones, L’ogan J’ones, Renni Magee, Melody Rose, and Daryl Tofa; swings: Jordan Chin, Milena J. Comeau, and Tristan McIntyre; and understudies: Spencer McCabe Hunsicker, Junior Nyong’o and
Trevor Wayne. 

Sky Lakota-Lynch delivers a sweet yet troubled portrayal with amazing vocals and Da'von T. Moody as the bad boy, big brother figure Dallas, embodies difficult emotions like frustration, anger, love, and defeat with strength and conviction, giving the idea as well that even though he does not know what he is doing necessarily, it is leading from loyalty.

Hearts will beat, race, and break. I am looking forward to seeing the many lives this musical has ahead. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.

The Outsiders has been extended by popular demand and is now running until April 9th.
For performance times and surrounding events please click HERE. 

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