by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
Even revised in its latest iteration at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica (the play ran a successful workshop premiere back in November 2016), the term that best describes Zoo Theatre Company’s Letters To Eve the new musical of untold stories from World War II is –mashup.
Letters To Eve is a 7-year labor of love for writer/composer Daniel Sugimoto, who wrote this story for his grandmother, Midori Sugimoto, who grew up in a Japanese internment camp, in Western America during the war. The focal point being that even through their incarceration, Japanese Americans continued to live in genuine hope of a better life and loyalty to America even above themselves. A parallel story told here is from the concentration camp at Dachau Germany where an African-American jazz musician and a Jewish woman also imprisoned in the camp, find an unlikely destiny together. Ultimately Letters To Eve is a piercingly beautiful story about love and family.
This is an epic endeavor and it’s clear that Sugimoto has taken on a massive amount of storytelling whether from real lost letters or passed down family remembrances. Many ideas are deliberately presented: the perseverance of the Japanese people, sexual violence against Jewish women, and a more humanistic view of a German of the 3rd Reich very much against the Nazi ideas.
Lovely and simple, it is mostly well-done, but by the second act, it is clear that the writing needs more reigning in – scenes and lines cut.
Sugimoto has presented a dialog on history, gender and race in the form of music, the most powerful part of this production for in which musically there are gems. However, the poetic verse which comes so often as the spoken dialog, gets in the way.
There is so much going on – so much beauty, meaning and intrigue abounding, that the rhymed couplets literally jut one out of the true emotional resonance leaving one longing for the plainest dialog. The story itself truly is enough.
Director Julia Lisa does a wonderous effective job phrasing the stage direction, choreography and tough scene transitions on and in front of the elevated stage, although props occasionally get in the way. Her task of keeping more than a few story lines seamlessly weaved is accomplished.
One can only hope that this production will at some point have the benefit of live music. The canned score did little to help the lovely voices of a dedicated cast who could have been slightly more challenged to step up their collective vocal power to match the power of the presentation. There are nevertheless, so many delightful ensemble moments by the entire cast who really sing and act their hearts out.
Costuming is spot on gorgeous especially for the ladies.
And I repeat…Letters To Eve…piercingly beautiful.