Singing Revolution: The Musical holds up a mirror to our current times in the United States, offering a reminder of the enduring importance of peaceful resistance in the most trying of circumstances, while never forgetting who we are in our hearts. It’s a tale of star-crossed lovers set against the beautiful, moving and timeless true story of Estonia’s 1987 song-filled, peaceful uprising against the Soviet Union. This new musical features a crowd-pleasing Europop score by well-known producer, stage director, choreographer, writer, arts leader and performer Tony Spinosa, who also directs the world premiere production, with book and lyrics by Spinosa and James Bearhart.
Director and lyricist Spinosa shares what led him to create this world premiere musical. “As a passionate theater professional for over 30 years, I have always been on the lookout for the inspiration for an original musical. I was on a cruise scheduled to stop in St. Petersburg in 2014, but it was diverted to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. It was while touring there that I first learned about Estonia’s ‘Singing Revolution,’ and a light bulb went off in my head: people using the power of peaceful resistance, literally singing as a shield against Soviet attacks, was a story that I knew needed to be told.”
“Singing Revolution” is a commonly used name for the nonviolent movement that led to the 1991 restoration of independence of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the Soviet Union. Starting in 1987, Estonians engaged in a series of mass demonstrations, including spontaneous singing of national songs which were banned during the Soviet occupation. Raising the banned Estonian flag while gathering en masse and singing banned patriotic songs, the movement eventually gained the support of the republic’s ruling Communist Party in defying Moscow, faced down Soviet tanks, and successfully declared Estonian independence.
Along with the mounting social unrest and peaceful revolution at the center of the musical is Taavi Tamm (James Everts), a proud Estonian who falls head over heels in love with a young Soviet, Sofia Solokov (Bella Hicks) after she attempts to convince him the Soviets are really there to do what is best for Estonia. And just like the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, these two face major obstacles from their parents as well as their friends, fearful their opposing political views will lead to heartbreak. At least that is what her father, Commander Nikolai Solokov (Michael Scott Harris) sets out to accomplish, worried that his daughter will eventually side with her new husband and give up her belief in the Soviet way of life. Thankfully in this musical, the young couple eventually survives and unites against the lies and deceit. Taavi’s mother Mia (Renée Wylder) is much more sympathetic, but worries her son will suffer the same fate as her husband and other Estonian men who have disappeared without a trace.
Krista Feallock as Leena Rebane, an Estonian teacher, and Lucas Alifano as her Russian husband Viktor Kuznetsov who fears for her safety as her politics threaten to not only end their relationship but also her life, are another pair of star-crossed lovers. And adding much Three Stooges type humor to the story are Adam Wylie as the Ghost of Josef Stalin, Anthony Marciona as the Ghost of Vladimir Lenin, and Peter Van Norden as Mikhail Gorbachev. This talented trio poked fun at themselves, their places in history, their major successes and failures, as well as that famous birthmark. Their asides to the audience about what is going on in Estonia generated tons of well-deserved laughter.
With an almost 3-hour run time (including one intermission), there is quite a bit of editing which should be done to bring it down to a more reasonable two hours. For as much as the story is intriguing, the staging a dream to behold, and the singers all wonderfully talented, several songs need to be cut or shortened, as well as some of the expressive dance numbers which are beautiful to watch but really serve no purpose to the story other than to give exceptional dancers a chance to shine as featured performers (Brandon Keith Rogers and Marissa Ruth Mayer).
Along with the super-talented featured performers already mentioned, the ensemble of triple threat performers includes Emily Abeles, Melanie Au-Yeung, Lacey Beegun, Mitchell Lam Hau, Thomas Hollow, Brandon Kallen, Chet Norment, Kelsey Lee Smith, and Michael Swain-Smith, all of whom dazzle during Tracey Benson’s action-packed choreography. Kudos to costume designer Alex Jaeger for the many color-coordinated quick changes.
Kudos must also be given to not only Spinosa but to Musical Director Brent Crayon and his small orchestra for delivering all the emotional impact written into the music as well as the lyrics. But one of the real stars of the production is the combination of scenic design by David Goldstein, wonderfully colorful lighting design by Andrew Schmedake, projection design by Nick Santiago which includes an ever-changing timeline for the events being presented, and sound design by Cricket S. Myers. I guarantee you will be swept away from scene to scene, just as the traveling staircase gets swept from side to side on the two-level set to denote different physical locations.
Singing Revolution: The Musical continues through February 20 on Fri/Sat 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm, at the Broadwater Main Stage on Hollywood’s Theater Row at 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are priced at $40, with no late seating so arrive early to locate street parking in the area. For more information and tickets, visit singingrevolutionthemusical.com. Available tickets will be sold at the door. Covid safety protocols are in place at the theater.
Two more musical productions of note seen recently: Teenage Dick a brilliantly hilarious take on Shakespeare’s Richard III, written by Mike Lew and directed by Tony Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel, streaming online at pasadenaplayhouse.org, and Avenue Q, the very adult musical with puppets directed by Brayden Hade with music direction by Dylan Price, choreography by Rehyan Rivera, and produced by Michael Pettenato for Cupcake Theater at the Hollywood Majestic Theater, 671 N Berendo St, Los Angeles, CA 90004 Tickets online at https://www.cupcaketheater.com/