The Old Globe opened the world premiere of playwright-in-residence Matthew Lopez’s new play, “Somewhere,” Sept. 29. Lopez is the author of “The Whipping Man,” produced in its west coast premiere at the Globe last season.
The young playwright has a fascination with history. “The Whipping Man,” which had a subsequent, praised run off-Broadway, concerns former slaves in the antebellum south. “Somewhere,” set in 1959, is a serious comedy with dance that concerns a Puerto Rican family evicted from their West 66th Street tenement to make way for the building of New York’s Lincoln Center.
The wrecking ball looms large, they are the last holdouts, and still Inez Candelaria (Priscilla Lopez, the original Diana Morales in “A Chorus Line”) refuses to move her household and three adult children to another tenement, provided by the city, because it’s in Brooklyn. As one of the kids says, “Mom, Brooklyn is still New York.” But like many denizens of Manhattan, Inez refuses to believe it.
Besides, the flat is close to Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, where her daughter Rebecca (Benita Robledo), an aspiring dancer, has just become an usher. Inez sings in a small nightclub in the neighborhood. Both are smitten with the current show, “West Side Story,” choreographed by Jerome Robbins. “Somewhere,” one of the hit songs in the score, gives Lopez’s play its title.
The Candelaria boys are a study in contrasts. A former dancer who played in “The King and I” when he was just 13, Alejandro (Jon Rua) has given up the dream and goes to work in a grocery store to put food on the table. Their father has been gone for several years. Francisco (Juan Javier Cardenas) aspires to the theater, too, and spends his time and money taking acting classes. Despite the situation and the family’s dire financial straits, all berate Alejandro for quitting dance.
Inez and Rebecca return from a matinee with great news. The dance sequences in “West Side Story” will be filmed in the neighborhood, and Jamie MacRae (Leo Ash Evens), the family’s “blanquito” (the diminutive of white) son, has become assistant choreographer to Robbins.
Evens makes a stunning entrance, dancing down the theater aisle. He and all the others are exquisite dancers and actors. Lopez’s play frequently departs gritty reality and goes off into dance sequences. Secrets are revealed, mysteries are solved, the family moves, there’s a breakdown, and one of the kids winds up dancing on Broadway in this ambitious, complicated, funny and affecting play.
With its faux linoleum floor, Campbell Baird’s detailed set (there’s a fire escape, too) miraculously accommodates the joyous and thrilling dance numbers choreographed by Greg Graham, who seems to relish the task. Giovanna Sardelli, who staged “The Whipping Man” directs with deep cultural understanding, capturing both comedy and pathos. Lovers of musical theater in particular will enjoy “Somewhere.”
Though his play screams for a bit of trimming, Lopez, a serious writer who knows how to write dialogue and through that create lovable characters, is the real star