NY Theater Review By Marcina Zaccaria
The Mapmaker’s Opera is an exceptional musical with Book & Lyrics by Victor Kazan and Music by Kevin Purcell. In this beautiful play, we are transported to the Mexican Revolution in 1908.
The musical was based on a novel by Béa Gonzalez. The story takes place in and around Mérida, a local plantation where wealthy owners and peasant workers intersect. The Mapmaker’s Opera unfolds to become a dramatic piece with lush, contemporary music.
Director Donald Brenner lets the musical have all the life and breath inherent in the drama. Brenner does a fine job in assembling a top-notch cast, ready to handle the difficult material. His sensitive, thoughtful direction provides the chance for each actor to bring his or her voice to the stage.
Sofia Duarte is skillfully played by Madeline Featherby. Sofia is not so much a foolish girl, but a pensive young woman, happy to trade drawings or lines of poetry. Diego Clemente, a young man who sketches birds, is played by Joel Perez. He is looking not only for approval but also a greater purpose in life. Diego searches for his own freedom in songs like “Free As a Bird.” Edward Nelson is played by Sean McDermott, and Don Victor Blanco Torres by Paul Cosentino. Lola is played by Natalia Lepore Hagan.
The choreography and musical staging by Staś Kmieć is inspired by ballet and flamenco. The dancers glide across the stage, and some of the scenes are particularly artful, with actors who look like portraits onstage. With leaps, jumps, and fists toward the sky, the performers embody the joy and the struggle of the people. Staś Kmieć does a fine job of looking at the whole and accenting it with the right movement. Particularly of note were the scenes of revolution. As the rebellion grows, actors pick up pitchforks and farming tools. Lola and the workers dazzle in “Someday Soon,” and their revolutionary figures shine.
At its simplest, it is a love story set in the Yucatán Peninsula. At its most complex, it’s an intricate story of paths crossing, and considering the map we make as we follow our heart and our life’s journey. Like West Side Story, The Mapmaker’s Opera gives us something to think about. In this multi-layered world, the lovers find strength and honor, as they seek solidarity with their community. In the drama, Sofia hopes to impress upon them her love for Diego, but gets snubbed by family members. Diego loses his grounding at the scene in the aviary at the end of the musical. It is particularly striking. Like the entire play, it is expressed in elegant dance, and finely crafted scenography.
The Mapmaker’s Opera was developed during the inaugural Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Colony in 2013. The traditional, well-executed score features music that is contemporary and uplifting, with Flamenco and Mariachi influences. Piano, guitar, flues, percussion, and off-stage singers are led by Music Director, Daniel Rein.
Scenic Design by Andrew Lu features an inventive design with colorful birds. The sepia tones, accented with turquoise and lime green, include maps that show the journey from Spain to Mexico. A digital screen that fills in is utilized as a backdrop upstage. It looks like the images are being drawn in, as the show continues. Sound Design is by Alex Hawthorn. Heightened soundscape includes the call of birds and the flapping of wings. Costume design by Laura Crow brings traditional Mexican dress to the stage. The men’s costumes are dashing and noble. The women’s costumes of shawls with peacocks and roses, are intricate and accented with shining jewelry.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival exists to revitalize musical theatre culture by discovering and promoting new musical theatre artists, producers and projects. NYMF is in its eleventh year. Festival alumni have received a number of awards including the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, NYMF received a special Drama Desk Awards in recognition of its work “creating and nurturing new musical theatre, ensuring the future of this essential art form.”
The Mapmaker’s Opera is running at the PTC Performance Space. Remaining performances include July 16 at 5PM. Additional information can be found the festival website, www.nymf.org. www.mapmakersopera.com