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Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

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“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?”

Except for the heroine’s exact age and the musical references, these first lines from the 1970 film, Love Story, could introduce Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, La Jolla Playhouse’s  world premiere, extravagant, multi-media, alternative rock opera stage production.

Both plots focus on blossoming love between two unlikely people, a lovely and artistic right-brained woman and a left-brained, but sensitive, man. Both heroines struggle with, and finally succumb to, aggressive cancer. Objecting parents factor in the development, both of characters and of plot. And music identifies both era and genre. (Not that this romantic story line is unique. Love and tragedy have captured imaginations and fantasies at least since early Greek drama.)

This is staging made for Broadway, an objective destination surely considered in the planning and creation. This show is Love Story for the modern technological, special effects age, with a nod to ET and more than a little tribute to the rock opera, The Who’s Tommy, which earned five Tonys, including one for best original score and best director.

The movie Love Story received seven Academy Award nominations— including best music, best director, and best writing— and won all of them, plus five Golden Globes. LJP’s love story will need some serious rewriting to achieve the live stage equivalent Tonys. There is an electronic resemblance in Yoshimi to the rock opera, The Who’s Tommy, but Yoshimi’s cool and unexcitable music, delivered with trite and clichéd lyrics, is no rival to the electrifying pinball wizard’s story. The good news is that Yoshimi has the potential.

What makes that potential includes the onstage gallivanting of a host of neon cherry androids, brought to life by a chorus of acrobatic actors in Paul Tazewell’s brilliant LED costumes, amazing projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis, great lighting design by Michael Walton and Steve Canyon Kennedy’s resonant sound design. The techno star is master puppeteer Basil Twist’s huge automaton, piloted from the inside by a trio supported by two outside manipulators. Nieuwenhuis’ fantastical video projections light up the background and serve as intermittent subtitles, like those in traditional operas. All of these technological actions are accompanied by music of the three-time Grammy winning band, The Flaming Lips, which released its album of the same name, which inspired this production, in 2002.

Credit Playhouse Director Emeritus and Best Director Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (The Who's Tommy, Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar) for collaboration that yielded the dazzling concept, the story (with Wayne Coyne of the Lips) and the direction. McAnuff (who was 18 when Love Story, the movie, grabbed the youthful American world) conceived the idea after listening to the Lips music. But it was not until Coyne approached him after their association with Jersey Boys on Broadway in 2005 that the notion began to take form

The story line focuses on Yoshimi (an engaging Kimiko Glenn), an artist with a penchant for depicting bright yellow suns in various stages from full on to rising and setting, and her battles against lymphoma and the “pink cells,” the circulating lymphoma cells, that threaten her life. Visualizing the CLC’s as pink robots, Yoshimi, her parents, the Yasukawas (a convincingly overwrought Pearl Sun and an effective John Haggerty), and her doctors, led by Dr. Petersen (a compelling Tom Hewitt), wage war on the viral enemies. Her before-diagnosis lover, Booker (Nik Walker, solid with an agreeable voice ), a stock trader, soon finds the battles enervating and unbearable. He leaves Yoshimi to carry on without him. But hanging out in the wings and venturing into the antiseptic hospital environs, the nerdy, erstwhile but determined Ben (a bouncy and playful Paul Nolan) clowns and cajoles his way into Yoshimi’s heart. As this and countless other stories attest, love and laughter can make miracles. Sadly, miracles may be short-lived. Ben and Yoshimi’s love story morphs into memory when she loses her war with the indefatigable androids.

Until then, Yoshimi’s will is strong, thanks to her martial arts achievements, and she punches and kick-asses her way to remission. Yet, a stereotypical undercurrent belies her nobility. Glenn’s petite stature allows numerous situations in which other characters, both male and female, pick her up and deposit her on couches and hospital beds as if she is incapable. Yes, cancer renders the strongest into lamb-like submission, but this is simply too much, too soon, too often.

More vocal heft would beef up the score, too. Glenn’s lovely, yet young-sounding voice is in character, but it is not Broadway big. Ditto Nolan’s too-thin tenor. The robots’ tunes often come out garbled, so some fine tuning of the electronic system would aid understanding. There is no dialogue in this opus, so the lyrics must carry the script, which could use some surprises in its too predictable plot.

Love Story’s most famous tag line was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Yoshimi’s is yet to be written. Let us hope that “sorry” is not part of it.

Twenty-somethings loved Eric Segal’s novel and film; their parents thought it was trite and schmaltzy. Judging from the opening night hoots and shout-outs, as well as the post-performance comments of the LJP audience, the age gap reprises. Perhaps that is as it should be. Audience development requires catering to those young enough to become theatre aficionados, those with futures that include love of live theatre and, even more important, commitment to its financial support for decades to come. Accepting that makes those of a certain age wonder what today's youthful generation will say about whatever new form plays on local stages fifty years from now. Maybe a time-traveling robot will arrive in time for us all to find out.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots continues through December 16 on the La Jolla Playhouse Mandell Weiss stage.Performances: Tues-Weds at 7:30 p.m.; Thu-Sat at 8:00 p.m.; Sun at 7:00 p.m. Sat & Sun matinees at 2:00 p.m. (No performance on Thanksgiving). Tickets from $15. Reservations: or (858) 550-1010



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.