It takes years to develop a new musical. Producer-director-cowriter Tony Spinosa’s vision, Singing Revolution, has made it through development—including a pandemic-caused delay—and is now having its world premiere at the Broadwater.
A cast of 20-plus performers, plus a five-piece band, bring to life the story of Estonia’s peaceful break from the Soviet Union, all inspired by Spinosa’s unscheduled visit to the nation on a cruise in 2014.
The musical valiantly attempts to cover almost 40 years of Estonian history, from the early years of postwar Soviet annexation, through the “singing revolution” of 1987-1991. The USSR tamped down Estonian resistance—which is a kind way of describing kidnappings, Siberian work camps and executions. In response, the Estonian resistance moved underground and waited, decades, for its chance. Songs like “That’s What I’m Fighting For,” “Freedom Is a Form of Love,” “Resist,” and “The Dream Is Alive” overpower the fewer anthems of the other side, like “Soviets” and “Boldly Comrades Keep Step.”
The heart of the show is a love story between an Estonian national, Taavi (James Everts), and the daughter of a Soviet commander, Sofia (Bella Hicks). They meet in school and fall instantly in love, much to the consternation of their parents. We follow the ups and downs of their courtship forward and backwards in time by multi-decade chunks.
The confusing shifts in time without changes in physical appearance or parental involvement is a distraction from what is, overall, an enjoyable show with fun, pop music. Some of the most powerful moments come from specific historical events, such as an Eastern Europe version of Hands Across America called the Baltic Chain, the creation of an Estonian Congress and the peaceful defense of a television tower that allowed the world to see what was happening.
If the romance was initiated closer to the revolution, the couple wouldn’t be pushing 60 at the end. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…) By staying youthful across the decades, the couple doesn’t give the audience a sense of what those intervening decades wrought. The dialogue sometimes tends toward the trite and the show could do with a trim from its 2-hour-45-minute length. Despite being a premiere, there is still the feeling of a work in progress.
Still, the show is joyful. The cast is uniformly talented and earnest, obviously thrilled to be performing live after almost two years of lockdown. Standouts are Bella Hicks as Sofia, whose voice enraptures; Michael Scott Harris as her father Nikolai, a perfect strongman; and Krista Feallock as teacher and proud Estonian Leena, who adds depth and warmth. Choreography by Tracey Benson fills the stage and shows off the mad dancing skills of the cast.
Comic relief, in the vein of The Producers, is provided by the ghosts of Stalin (Adam Wylie) and Lenin (Anthony Marciona), who advise Gorbachev (Peter Van Norden). These campy interludes generate laughs and provide a grounding in what was guiding the Soviets during and up to the Cold War era.
Singing Revolution is onstage at The Broadwater, 1076 Lillian Way at Santa Monica Blvd.,, through February 20, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 3:00pm. For tickets, click here. Vaccination and ID card are required for entry; masks must be worn throughout the show. Note that theaters are now requiring medical-grade masks, so time to store all those cute cloth masks you acquired over the past two years.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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