The Tacoma Little Theatre is sneaking in the door of Tacoma Musical Playhouse. TLT is in partnership with University of Washington-Tacoma and Toy Boat Theatre to present The Happiest Song Plays Last, by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and directed by Marilyn Bennett. Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes also composes music. She grew up in Philadelphia. She had a Jewish father and a Puerto Rican mother. Her step-father was also Puerto Rican. She graduated from Yale with a BA in music composition and an MFA in playwriting from Brown University. She has put both of these achievements to good use. The 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical went to In the Heights. Hudes wrote the music for the musical as well as the book. She also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. Tacoma Musical Playhouse will open their doors on May 13th for their production of In the Heights. So, Tacoma can be proud of the fact that we have two productions of Quiara Alegría Hudes running at the same time.
In a barrio living room in North Philly, an activist-turned-music-professor moonlights as the local soup kitchen queen, cooking free rice and beans for any hungry neighbor. She shares her food, shares her feelings and shares her determination. Halfway around the world, her cousin Elliot relives his military trauma on the set of a docudrama that’s filming in Jordan. With the Egyptian revolution booming in the distance, these two young adults try to sing a defiant song of legacy and love in the face of local and global unrest. Terence Mejos as Elliot carries the angst and the action of most of the two acts. The joy and soul of the two acts is carried by the music . . . as a solo and in the finale with the entire group
I really enjoyed the character of Lefty. He’s a child in an adult body, but understands that people are hurting and he tries to help with what he can. When his mother dies, Yaz “adopts” him just as she does with any of the neighbors in need.
Tacoma Little Theatre’s production of The Happiest Song Plays Last features Maria-Tania Bandes B. Weingarden as Yaz, Katie Jones as Shar, Jesús Villegas as Agustin, Wade Hicks as Lefty, Terence Mejos as Elliot, and Shailendra P. Jain as Ali. Live on-stage music is be provided by Anand Landon and Storm Tucker. It’s too bad my buddy Antonio Edwards, Jr. (2009 Poet Laureate of Tacoma) doesn’t live in the Tacoma area anymore. He’s from New York and of Puerto Rican heritage. With the live on-stage Puerto Rican music playing, he would have been dancing in the aisle at every performance . . . which is not really a bad idea.
The Happiest Song Plays Last and leaves us with a glimmer of hope . . . and sometimes a glimmer is all we have to trust in.
Live guitar plays traditional Puerto Rican music on stage to open each act. Anand Landon performs on April 29, 30 & May 6, 12, 14, 15. Storm Tucker performs on May 1, 7, 8, 13. You will probably recognize some of the tunes, but enjoy them all. Watch the finger work.
Director Marilyn Bennett says “As with the live music, we have happily heeded all of the playwright’s wishes as authentically as we could in casting, staging, storytelling, and music.” It shows nicely.
Blake R. York serves as TLT’s Technical Director and Scenic Designer. His stair steps look like a welcoming plaza. The projected slides work well with the alcove kitchen as well as the door to darkness that the characters step through.
The costumes carefully show us that these are real people we are seeing. The clothes blend in and we recognize them as possibly coming from our own closets, which easily binds us to the actions of the actors and their characters. Michele Graves did a very nice job as Costume Designer.
The Happiest Song Plays Last will run Friday, April 29, 2022, through Sunday, May 15, 2022. Friday and Saturday showings are at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. The Happiest Song Plays Last is recommended for ages 12 and up. There will be an ASL interpreted performance on Sunday, May 15, 2022 at 2:00pm.