A revival of “Hire,” an brisk manufacturing newly at Likelihood Theater, is a largely welcome antidote to the annual dwell theater summer time doldrums when sturdy musicals in O.C. are instantly in brief provide.
The Anaheim venue’s cloistered Cripe stage proper now can positively remedy what ails ya, internet hosting an intimate, however totally fleshed tackle one of many nice sprawling glories of the American canon.
A strong, social-themed melodrama of strivers, slackers and survivors stumbling alongside their gritty means, and with a (perhaps too?) hefty rating that includes the break-out hit “Seasons of Love,” this mounting of “Hire” surmounts the built-in storytelling trip-ups with a well-directed and well solid manufacturing.
This present definitely has a backstory like few others.
A plot-grab homage to Puccini’s eternally profitable 1896 opera “La Bohème,” “Hire” debuted precisely a century later.
The rating was now rock and pop. Its setting had moved from fin de siècle Paris to a derelict chunk of Manhattan’s East Village in 1989.
The eternally cliché starving-artiste bohemians had been remodeled into an electronic-age songwriter, a videographer wannabe and numerous others busy courting and staving off drug habit and illness.
Created by a then-unknown Jonathan Larson, who proved as playwright/composer/lyricist to be a one-man gang of expertise, the piece charts the downs-and-ups of a up to date coterie of younger squatters grappling with the aftermath of the AIDS plague in addition to dwelling with HIV.
A grassroots off-Broadway staging in 1996 gained “Hire” the Pulitzer Prize in drama. Later that 12 months it transferred to Broadway for a 12-year run, successful a Tony Award for finest musical.
The present was additionally invested with tragic mythology: Larson died proper earlier than the present’s first preview from undiagnosed coronary heart illness. He was 35.
“Hire’s” legacy since additionally included sparking a major up-and-coming Broadway expertise to seek out his means.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, probably the most potent theater creator of this century with “Within the Heights” and, titanically, “Hamilton,” pays again “Hire” for displaying him how music of its personal time and up to date themes might drive a Broadway musical.
“‘Hire’ was the present that made me wish to write,” Miranda stated. “Or that confirmed me you’re allowed to jot down.”
Unusually, the writing itself in “Hire” isn’t all the time a energy. There’s a herky-jerky inconsistent high quality in what was Larson’s final draft.
The preliminary first act, 90 minutes lengthy, has a uneven stint of early character introductions — brace your self barely for bouts of whining — that largely evolves by way of 20 songs. It’s a deep dive exploration, set over the course of an actual week’s time, into social themes and people’ tales.
Perversely, after opening the second act with the warhorse “Seasons of Love,” the subsequent 45 minutes largely dispenses with displaying and as a substitute gallops forward typically merely telling the viewers what transpired within the story’s subsequent 12 months earlier than winding up the plot.
However what “Hire” lacks in storytelling construction, it greater than makes up with huge themes and a usually fantastic contemporary-for-its-time rating. It definitely affords the suitable director, one who loves the piece sufficient, to make its strengths shine.
In seasoned director Matthew McCray, Likelihood discovered somebody who greater than suits the invoice.
A Chapman College grad who has directed at many Southern California homes — for Likelihood he staged 2022’s profitable “Subsequent to Regular” — McCray is clearly at one with this present (an enthralling paragraph in this system about his first journey to NYC, expressly to see this musical, features a very “Hire”-y sleeping-on-the-sidewalk-for-cheap-theater-tickets victory coda).
To start out, there was good work even by Likelihood requirements from McCray and theater brass in marshaling a top quality solid of 15, most of them newcomers to this stage.
Among the many eight leads, there’s a excessive quantity want for triple-threat expertise to behave, sing and dance. One other field largely checked.
Unfairness will dominate the remainder of this paragraph with mentions solely of Lena Ceja’s minx/susceptible druggie Mimi (observe: Ceja can sing sweetly and belt); Adam Leiva, affecting as doomed Angel; and Lily Targett’s erratic, however intensely dedicated bohemian Maureen.
Whereas there’s a substantial amount of stylized stage motion, it’s a bit unlucky there isn’t much more dance that the work presents us. Choreographer Mo Goodfellow’s “Tango: Maureen” has wit and the one dance showstopper, the act one ending “La Vie Boheme” is lengthy however you want it went on even longer.
The ensemble singing McCray has coached out of the solid can be deserving of reward. Sound designer Dave Mickey’s work maybe enhances a number of the numbers a bit too helpfully — a number of missed phrase timings from the ensemble had been very sonically accessible — however at simply lower than 3 minutes, you’d take a for much longer chorale remedy of “Seasons of Love.”
Kudos, too, to administration in making an preliminary smart move to retool the primary stage into an angled, thrust configuration surrounded on three sides by a number of rows of grandstand seating.
Whereas solid and viewers don’t commingle, they arrive shut and scenic designer Joe Holbrook’s grungy environs present an open stage area that affords intimacy in addition to spot-on time interval touches. (Reality test: that old school pay telephone on the aspect of the stage expenses 1 / 4 per name, about proper for the present’s time interval)
One other key ambient high quality is lighting designer Zach Moore’s stellar work all through. Discover in that prolonged, vibrant “La Vie Boheme”, the attractive, amber hue flooding down from on excessive, a heat bathing of sunshine, a metaphor for hope warming the stage.
Finally, amongst its virtues, “Hire” one way or the other maintains a timeless universality of reality telling. It doesn’t seem thematically stale by way of 2023 eyes.
For example, the present subtly reminds us that social issues then can stay social issues now.
We hear from one of many characters describing the scene on the very starting that adjoining to their ramshackle loft, “outdoors, a small tent metropolis has sprung up subsequent door.”
What’s true in “Hire” then, stays — sadly — true now.
Score: 3 stars
When: By Aug 20. Common performances: 7:30 p.m., Thursdays. 8 p.m., Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 and eight p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
The place: Likelihood Theater, Cripe Stage, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
Data: 888-455-4212; chancetheater.com