Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me… but it’s true after all:
Just in time for the 10th anniversary of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the musical adaptation of The Flaming Lips’ most popular album is set to world première on November 6, 2012 at U.C. San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse. Theater-goers are now anticipating the story of “a young Japanese artist facing the battle of her life: the battle for her life…”
Conceived by acclaimed Broadway director Des McAnuff, lead Lip Wayne Coyne has overseen the creation of the production along with Lips’ manager Scott Booker. More than a just a musical, Yoshimi will be a major multimedia show with a live band, creative lighting and hi-tech puppets. The Playhouse’s artistic director Christopher Ashley recently revealed to utsandiego.com, “There are going to be projections, and Basil Twist (the distinguished puppeteer who has worked on several Playhouse shows) is going to work on the robots. So I think it’ll be spectacular.”
Yoshimi was added to La Jolla Playhouse’s 2012/2013 season yesterday at lajollaplayhouse.org – along with a promo image (shown left) that reveals the première runs until December 16th. Casting is set to begin soon in San Diego, Los Angeles and New York. Writer/ director Des McAnuff told The LA Times, “Wayne and I continue to fine tune the libretto and score for the musical which will go into rehearsal in La Jolla in the middle of September.” Individual Yoshimi show tickets will become available at around that time with less expensive ticket options following in autumn. As of now tickets can be purchased through the “6 Play Subscription Series” – which also includes tickets to five other plays: new American musical, Hands on a Hardbody; critically acclaimed drama, Blood and Gifts; Page to Stage musical, The Nightingale; Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross; and re-imagined classic An Iliad.
Yoshimi’s official description in La Jolla’s schedule teases: “Adrift from her family and lover, Yoshimi journeys alone into a fantastical robot-world where she wages a war with fate. Will her will to survive be powerful enough to master the evil forces that threaten to destroy her?”
In 2007 Wayne explained the storyline – or lack thereof – to Entertainment Weekly: ”I tell people all the time, it’s not really a story. It’s more like a mood. ‘There’s a Japanese girl; she fights some robots; that’s five minutes. After that I don’t know…'”
Thus presented McAnuff’s first creative issue – Yoshimi (the album) has only a vague plot, and only on its first half. It’s not a “rock opera” like Tommy, or even side A of Rush’s 2112. To adapt and build upon the album’s stem of a storyline, Des incorporated songs from other Lips albums – The Soft Bulletin and At War with the Mystics. The result is billed as a “dazzling, multi-media experience that offers an allegory of our modern battle for progressive thought and individuality in the face of blind acceptance and conformity” expressing “the triumph of love and optimism over the mystery of our own mortality…”
Fans of both the band and contemporary theater are eager to learn which Lips songs are used, how they are set and if new music has been written for the musical. It also remains to be seen whether the production will actually make it to Broadway, the original plan dating back to 2003…
Reports of this production have recurringly appeared in the news since it broke that Aaron Sorkin was confirmed to write its script in March 2007. Articles on the work-in-progress were widely spread that spring on the web and in a variety of magazines, including non-music publications. Prior to that rumors of the musical proposals circled amongst Lips fans, confirmed in 2006 through a mention in The Flaming Lips’ biography by Jim Derogatis. But through all that, many were skeptical it would ever make it to the stage. In the bio Lips’ manager Scott Booker summed up the reaction many had upon first hearing plans to transform the fearless freaks’ songs into musical theater proper: “Is that weird or what?”
2007’s WGA Writers’ Strike allegedly interrupted planning, and for a couple of years not much was spoken about its development. It appeared to have come to a standstill until spring 2010 when news resurfaced via Spinner and other sources (i.e. this and this and this). That November Wayne had further talks with Des (pictured above) – which he mentioned on twitter (above left, with the photo below). On February 24, 2011, Wayne updated to his followers in a now deleted tweet, “Dez does another read through for WB staff in Burbank …Yoshimi on Broadway..”
Though it was suspicious why Wayne’s tweets about the musical were being deleted, after years of sketchy rumors and reports it finally seemed a Yohsimi musical was a near-future reality.
La Jolla Playhouse is U.C. San Diego’s not-for-profit theatre-in-residence. As a regional theatre it has an outstanding track record: The Who’s Tommy, Matthew Broderick’s revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Dracula, the Musical, Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, Jersey Boys and Memphis are just a few of works that ran at La Jolla before finding success on Broadway. Note Des was heavily involved with most of these successes (including Yoshimi’s two rock-pop-musical predecessors: Tommy and Jersey Boys) and with La Jolla itself (he revived the theater in 1983 and has served as its artistic director off-and-on since). The involvement of Des – who after all adapted for the stage one of Coyne’s prime inspirations, The Who’s Tommy – is part of the reason the Lips agreed to have their songs become musical theater. On the flipside Wayne revealed, ”When Des heard the record [Yoshimi], he heard a lot about death and loss and the triumph of your own optimism… he had an emotional attachment to it.”
With a slew of other Lips projects over the past few years and for the forseeable future, it’s unlikely they have been as creatively involved as earlier interviews have implied (for example in 2010, World Entertainment News Network quoted Wayne on “deciding to dedicate a couple of years of my life to making it” – which obviously has not happened)…
Likewise The LA Times pointed out yesterday that “Sorkin’s name is conspicuously missing from Wednesday’s announcement.” Des followed-up with a statement to The Times today: “Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and I have been working on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for some time. Aaron Sorkin initially planned to write a book for the musical, but when it became clear that the musical would be ‘sung through,’ Aaron turned his attention to other projects. In the meantime, Aaron and I have started work on another play…[Wayne and I] know that we have Aaron’s enthusiastic blessing on our project…We are both looking forward to Yoshimi with keen anticipation.”
The official announcement credits “multiple Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff” with a “poignant, humanistic story…inspired by the whimsical and psychedelic music of Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips.” In other words, Des wrote and directed a musical based on the Lips’ songs.
Ashley further clarified to utsandiego.com that Des “crafted a story that’s inspired by and coming out of the album, but he has really created his own story to use that music. So it’s inspired by the album, but also coming from the brain of Des McAnuff.” But Ashley also pointed out the Lips “have been very involved. They have a long history with Des, so they really have an immense amount of trust and have put their music in his hands. Des has been consulting with them at every phase, about, ‘What were you thinking when you wrote this song, what characters do these lyrics belong in, and where else should I go in your music to accomplish the moments I need?‘”
Also note the schedule on lajollaplayhouse.org originally credited,
“Written and Directed by Des McAnuff
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips”
…but was changed today to,
“Story by Wayne Coyne & Des McAnuff
Music & Lyrics by The Flaming Lips
Conceived and Directed by Des McAnuff”