“From your mouth to God’s ears! I hope this show has a future.”
That’s how Nik Walker, co-star of La Jolla Playhouse’s 2012 production of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, responded last November to The Future Heart inquiring about Broadway or tour plans for the musical. “As of now everybody’s pretty tight lipped, but I’ll say this – they’ve been working on this show for 7 years…this show is TOO important to stop here.”
Two weeks later, Yoshimi director and co-writer Des McAnuff spoke after the final curtain of La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere run, mentioning the possibility of a Broadway production to the audience. McAnuff said he wasn’t sure where Yoshimi “belongs” next, according to Jim Herbert’s report for utsandiego.com.
La Jolla Playhouse – U.C. San Diego’s not-for-profit theatre-in-residence – has an outstanding regional theater reputation, including Matthew Broderick’s revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Dracula The Musical, Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays and Memphis. Des debuted his two biggest smashes in La Jolla before taking them to New York: The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys. The theatre is also known for unconventional material, like their world premiere of (Phish frontman) Trey Anastasio’s musical adaptation of the documentary Hands on a Hardbody, and Duncan Sheik’s reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale. But the commercial world of Broadway is a different league than supportive regional theater, and it’s this difference that McAnuff’s Yoshimi final curtain comments addressed. Yoshimi is after all an expensive show to produce, full of technological effects (high-tech 14-foot robotic puppets, LED costumes, projections, etc) – yet relies almost entirely on a plot pieced together from Flaming Lips lyrics that (unlike Tommy or Jersey Boys) most of the general public has never heard. Could there be enough interest to pay to bring The Flaming Lips’ music to Broadway? If not, where does Yoshimi – which took years to create and $3.8 million to produce in La Jolla – “belong”? The future of the musical was hazy.
Now the L.A. Times reports Korean theatrical impresario Chunsoo Shin is “staking a lot of money on the science-fiction musical Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, on which he is a lead producer” to take the production to Broadway and Asian markets.
How much money?
Bringing Yoshimi to Broadway will cost over $10 million Shin told the Times, to which he is reaching out to investors in China, Japan and Korea. The Times also reports that La Jolla Playhouse’s managing director Michael Rosenberg “traveled to Seoul in December to meet with Shin and will be back in the spring to discuss other possible collaborations.”
“He’s a good fit for our company,” Rosenberg told the Times. “He cares passionately about musical theater and bringing it [to Korea] where there’s a real hunger for it.” The Times also notes estimates from Shin’s company demonstrating the boom in the Korean theater market: approximately $270 million compared to just $1.14 billion in Broadway ticket sales for last season. “Korea has become an increasingly important market for American musicals in the last 10 years, according to Marc Routh, a New York theater producer and a founder of Broadway Asia, a group that brings stage productions to Asian countries.” With its Japanese-American characters and anime imagery, Yoshimi fits right into the trend.
Don’t get too excited though. There’s been no official Broadway announcement, according to playbill.com, and Shin says the earliest it will premiere on Broadway is next year. Playbill also adds that Shin produced Broadway’s Chaplin, Jesus Christ Superstar (2012) and The Story of My Life; is one of the producers of the new Broadway revival of Jekyll & Hyde; and previously successfully produced the latter and Dreamgirls in South Korea.
Yoshimi’s La Jolla world premier received rave reviews. “The actors cast in the three main roles…are phenomenal and carry the show in their own way,” according to NBC San Diego “Yoshimi leaves you with the feeling that life is short and that you need to live life to the fullest while on planet Earth, because we’re all floating in space. The story is strong, albeit a little depressing — those pink robots are actually stand-ins for cancer cells — but life has to be felt.”
Perez Hilton deemed it worthy of many exclamation marks: “The music in Yoshimi is soooooo good! Even if you’re not a Flaming Lips fan, you will enjoy it! And, thankfully, Bill Brendle did an amazing job with the orchestrations and Ron Melrose with the music direction! Performing contemporary music that sounds modern in Broadway-type shows can be tricky. But thankfully the Yoshimi team made it seem effortless!
…And the puppets by Basil Twist are out of this world amazing! A Broadway run is not guaranteed, but it sure looks good for this show!”
“With no less than twenty four actors under director McAnuffs supervision and four talented musicians with conductor Jasper Grant along with the phenomenon of Taswell’s gentle giant of a fourteen foot puppet,” examiner.com added, “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is worth a try if for nothing else but to bring yourself into the technical world of modern theatre. And who knows, you might even become a fan of The Flaming Lips.”