Actor Tom Zohar takes the stage once again for a Diversionary Theatre world premiere
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Reporter
Set on a farm in small-town America, “Harmony, Kansas” is a musical for young, old, gay and straight, with music by Anna K. Jacobs and book and lyrics by Bill Nelson. The play opens with its world premiere Saturday, June 23 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
The production is being helmed by James Vasquez, the current go-to director in San Diego. In addition to producing and directing films for his production company, Daisy 3 Pictures, Vasquez’s most recent work includes directing “Next Fall” for Diversionary as well as last year’s “The Rocky Horror Show” for the Old Globe.
John Alexander, Diversionary’s executive director, said he liked the script for “Harmony, Kansas” immediately and sent it to Vasquez for his opinion. After receiving the script one afternoon, Vasquez said he emailed and phoned Alexander later that evening, saying, “You should do the show, and I want to be considered as director.”
Alexander then put Vasquez in touch with the authors, Jacobs and Nelson, who were at that moment interviewing prospective directors for the position. Vasquez said he believes they hired him because of his candor and suggestions.
“We had rehearsal rooms and free rein to play and rehearse,” Vasquez said of his first few weeks with the writers. “We fought a lot but it was always out of passion: this works [or] that doesn’t … giving us a chance to hear what wasn’t working [and] what wasn’t clear.”
Of the play, Vasquez said he believes the story is especially relevant with the current emphasis on the bullying of and suicide among LGBT teenagers.
“There’s something about this story: finding a support group [and] finding a chosen family to help lift you up and support you, and [to] help you find your own voice, literally and metaphorically,” he said.
San Diego actor Tom Zohar, who plays the “Harmony, Kansas” protagonist, Julian, moved to New York two years ago, and a week after the move, met Anthony Methvin. Methvin and Zohar later married, and when they were both cast in Vasquez’s production, they decided to relocate back to San Diego. The pair now lives in Hillcrest.
Zohar, who has a deep theatrical past in San Diego, works for a large retail company with locations in New York and San Diego, affording him the opportunity to transfer back. “One of the reasons I decided to move here and not stay in New York is because I was ready to settle down and see if I, like my character Julian, can do both [theater and a day job] at the same time,” Zohar said. “Julian is figuring out how to find what feeds his soul and be a farmer at the same time. He doesn’t want to have to choose. I don’t want to choose either.”
Saying he is glad to be back in theater in San Diego, Zohar called the audition process in New York daunting and said he was not sure he had the ambition needed to last. “I’m okay with that,” he said. “I just want to collaborate with people I love and have a great time.”
For “Harmony, Kansas,” Vasquez said the writers did “beautifully, creating seven guys who are flawed,” as all humans are.
“I love the fact [the writers] haven’t wrapped the story up in a perfect way, because it’s about finding your inner voice and the confidence to stand up and sing,” he said. “Even though I’ve seen the show so many times, there are still moments in songs where I stop and listen, and watch and cry. Audiences are in for something special.”
Zohar agrees with Vasquez’s sentiment whole-heartedly.
“Anna Jacobs is a genius in every sense of the word,” Zohar said. “The music is unbelievable. I don’t have words to describe it. It’s beyond gorgeous. We all get to sing some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”
“Harmony, Kansas” opened in previews June 14, and has its official world premiere on Saturday, June 23. The play continues through July 22 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. Tickets start at $27. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit diversionary.org or call 619-220-0097.