Her Name is “Yoshimi”…
…actually it’s Kimiko Glenn (photo via her impressive site, kimikoglenn.com)…
The star of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s The Nightingale at La Jolla Playhouse last spring returns to the theater as “Yoshimi” in Des McAnuff’s musical adaptation of The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robot. “One of the most anticipated American musicals to open this year,” previews begin November 6th (tickets for all nights through December 16th have been on sale since August here; check under the “Team Yoshimi” section below for reduced priced and FREE TICKET offers)…
Ben, the male lead, will be played by….
…that is to say, Paul Nolan – star of the recent Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. In fact, as previously noted by The Future Heart, Yoshimi‘s cast is filled with Superstar alumni, including Tony Award nominee Tom Hewitt (Zhivago, The Rocky Horror Show, Dracula, The Musical and Pilate in Superstar) as Dr. Peterson and Superstar ensemble members Mary Antonini, Laurin Padolina, Jaz Sealey, Jason Sermonia and Julius Sermonia. Scenic designer Robert Brill is also a veteran of Superstar (and The Wiz), as is costume designer Paul Tazewell. Lead Lip Wayne Coyne attended Jesus Christ Superstar’s premiere last spring with his wife, Michelle Martin-Coyne – and they were apparently impressed:
News of Nolan’s lead broke on September 4th at theglobeandmail.com: “Des McAnuff, who is directing and co-writing what is expected to be an entirely unorthodox and outside-the-box show, says the Saskatchewan native impressed Lips front man Wayne Coyne in his performance as Jesus. ‘As you know, Paul’s a remarkably talented singer and actor – and he also happens to be a spectacular dancer,” McAnuff says. “We’ll try and get him to strut his stuff.’”
Meet The Pink (Puppet) Robots…
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots will be a major multimedia work complete with a live rock band, light projections, dancing, aerial choreography and ten high-tech puppets.
La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher revealed to utsandiego.com last March, ”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.”
Basil has also worked on Broadway’s The Pee-wee Herman Show and The Addams Family (read more at basiltwist.com) as well as several La Jolla productions (watch here behind-the-scenes at A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and is most acclaimed for his underwater puppet show, Symphonie Fantastique.
Reports on utsandiego.com have recently claimed the production “team is going ‘full-tilt boogie’ on creating the extensive, sci-fi-minded effects,” and “like ‘The Who’s Tommy’ — the rock ’n’ roll show that McAnuff took from the Playhouse to Broadway two decades ago — “Yoshimi” will be an effects-minded spectacle.”
These follow the expectations set in July by the casting call’s emphasis for the three main roles “MUST BE COMFORTABLE AS A DANCER WITH LIFTS AND CONTACT. MUST BE COMFORTABLE WITH AERIAL WORK AND HEIGHTS.”
In fact La Jolla Playhouse says Yoshimi is “a production so innovative that we are actually commissioning new technology to bring the vision of Des McAnuff to life.” The construction of these 14-foot robots is just “one of the numerous technological marvels in this ground-breaking production” the playhouse is fundraising with their “Adopt a Robot” drive. Donate via the form at La Jolla’s link above (or click on the above “Adopt” icon).
Meet “Team Yoshimi”…
Are they all “black belts in karate?”
…in any case, “Team Yoshimi” recently took over San Diego East Village’s Night and Day Street Fest (pictured above via facebook/LaJollaPlayhouse) and San Diego Comic Fest (pictures here). La Jolla Playhouse has also teamed with Psych Explorations of The Future Heart to help spread word of this groundbreaking production. Fans who do street team work in the San Diego area are eligible for a pair of free tickets to one of the first showings. Details were posted here. Here’s some of the fans that have already earned free admission!
Discounts are also available just for being a Flaming Lips fan!
Use promo code ‘LIPS30’ for the same discounts described above for 94.9’s code. Use promo code ‘LIPSVIP’ to activate the discount online. The first 50 fans receive a free gift from The Flaming Lips!
But wait, there’s more!
La Jolla Playhouse is giving away a pair of Friday, November 9th tickets through facebook/TheFutureHeart.
This special 8pm preview performance is over a week before the official press opening!
Yoshimi’s world première runs through December 16th at the Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre (2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UC San Diego campus) 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays (except Thanksgiving); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Once again, tickets for all nights are on sale here, or call 858-550-1010.
Sneak a Peak of the Rehearsals…
John Haggerty and Kimiko Glenn above; director Des McAnuff and scenic designer Robert Brill below; both photos at first rehearsal by J. Katarzyna Woronowicz
Meet Des McAnuff…
Although Coyne and Lips manager Scott Booker have overseen the creation of the new musical, it is largely the work of Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff (pictured to the right with La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley at Yoshimi’s first rehearsal – photo by J. Katarzyna Woronowicz). Des revived La Jolla’s Playhouse in 1983 and has served as its artistic director off-and-on since. He debuted both The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys at the Playhouse, before bringing them to smash Broadway success. McAnuff is now in his final season as artistic director at Stratford, though he’ll return to director a revival of the The Who’s Tommy in 2013.
Ashley described Des to broadwayworld.com earlier this year: “If he had wanted to be, Des McAnuff could have been a rock and roll star. He lives it, he breathes it, and his greatest artistic successes have been inspired by it. Fresh off the unprecedented success of Jesus Christ Superstar, Des joins forces with The Flaming Lips, an iconic, psychedelic rock band whose unfettered, wildly theatrical imagination matches his own.”
In August Ashley echoed those comments in his casting press statement: “The cast and creative team feature many of our favorite Playhouse alumni…With Des’ return engagement to the Playhouse to stage this dazzlingly imaginative and technologically trendsetting new musical, this incredible company will bring this wildly theatrical piece to life.”
McAnuff became a major fan of the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi album in 2005, so much so he had the band perform the title track at the opening of “Jersey Boys” on Broadway that year. According to lajollalight.com, “Wayne Coyne approached McAnuff to imagine it as a theatrical piece.” Wayne disagrees, telling utsandiego.com the idea was presented to him, and he was skeptical: “I wasn’t a fan of (the idea), but I wasn’t against it. It was just something that seemed very hokey to me.”
KPBS San Diego’s “Evening Edition” will air an interview with Des at 6:30 PM on November 2nd. More info here.
Meet the Characters…
This past July the show’s casting calls were published on the web – giving us all a glimpse of the characters:
Ben Nickel – a mercurial spirit in a three-piece suit and an open bow tie (which serves as a kind of uniform in a Chaplin-esque fashion) – is a computer graphics designer for a publishing house. A caucasian, about 30 years old, he dances, clowns around in a gawky way but is charming and attractive.
Booker is a tall, athletic, good-looking business-man in a suit, white shirt and tie – an investment counselor and broker (like Ben he is about 30, but African-American).
Both Ben and Booker are in love with Yoshimi Yasukawa, a beautiful, first generation Asian-American visual artist (and later a Freedom Fighter). Before she can resolve the war between her two boyfriends she finds herself fighting for her life.
The New York auditions also listed Yohsimi’s parents (via broadwayworld.com):
“MR. YASUKAWA: 50s; Rock Tenor or high; May look frail but must sing with surprising confidence, passion and strength; Baritone – Asian – 1st generation Asian immigrant. YOSHIMI’s father, a rather stern, concerned parent – middle class business man. Capable of moving.
MRS. YASUKAWA: 50s; Rock Alto/Folk Mezzo – may look frail but should sing with confidence, passion and strength; Asian. 1st generation Asian immigrant. Yoshimi’s loving, dedicated mother. Capable of moving.”
Preview The Plot…
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…‘”
Wayne compared the concept to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil at the time: ”There’s the real world and then there’s this fantastical world. This girl, the Yoshimi character, is dying of something. And these two guys are battling to come visit her in the hospital. And as one of the boyfriends envisions trying to save the girl, he enters this other dimension where Yoshimi is this Japanese warrior and the pink robots are an incarnation of her disease. It’s almost like the disease has to win in order for her soul to survive. Or something like that.”
At that time Academy and Emmy award-winning screenwriter/ producer/playwright Aaron Sorkin was scripting the musical. Wayne Coyne recently explained to The Guardian why Sorkin departed from the production: “He wanted to make it about 9/11, with the giant robots as the Bush administration. I think I was the first person who said no to him in about 30 years. It didn’t occur to him that I could say no and I didn’t realise either until I did it.”
For years the production was stalled by uncertainty in how to turn an album without a true storyline into a full musical. As recently as 2010 Coyne told World Entertainment News Network, “I guess my biggest dilemma is there’s not really a story with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots; it’s just a series of unconnected songs that sound connected when you listen. That being said, I don’t think it would be overly impossible to draw some connections and come up with some type of emotional storyline.”
How they responded to that dilemma was first teased in Yoshimi’s official description in La Jolla’s March 2012 schedule: “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?”
Soon after that tease Ashley elaborated to utsandiego.com that Yoshimi is set in the present but with a “futuristic landscape… all within her, and it’s all her and her lover’s sort of imagination about what’s happening within her…The show is a fantastical journey into the battle between the robots happening within her body. It’s kind of like her medical situation becomes a science-fiction backdrop. It’s the battle between her will to survive and the evil forces that are threatening to destroy her… It’s also got a love triangle – it’s very much a love story set against her battle for her own life.”
Des – who consulted local biotech and medical experts to develop the plot – elaborated that the multiple plotlines will be woven together with anime and science:“There’s more than one level of reality in (the storytelling of) ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. and it combines (Japanese) anime with American pop culture, so there’s a duality there as well. And also, we’re attempting to combine art and science.”
Ashley recently compared the thin plot on the first half of the 2002 album to the new work, saying to Variety the musical has a “much more extensive narrative that jumps off the album like a trampoline.”
“It’s a contemporary story that takes place in our world and is multi-layered with psychedelic rock arrangements. It’s visually told through a real team effort of choreography, set designs, puppets, a great cast and wonderful projection-artist Sean Nieuwenhuis (“Jesus Christ Superstar”). He does some great things with Robert Brill (“Creditors,” “The Wiz”), my longtime scenic designer, and Basil Twist (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), one of the county’s most eminent puppet artists. I think the audience will find it an inspiring story with a lot of heart. People seem to have a strong emotional reaction to it. I think Wayne and the band will capture that in this production. It combines science and art in a fresh way and belongs here in the 21st century.’”
-Des McAnuff to lajollalight.com, October 2012
“When we went into make ‘Yoshimi and the Pink Robots’ – and you have to remember, this is just music, we’re not thinking of it as anything else – we didn’t have any real concept. The first song we’d written was based around the death of a Japanese woman we all knew (a friend and fan of the band). Then we ended up recording with a woman who’s actually called Yoshimi (P-We) – she’s in a group called the Boredoms. It was a group we’d played with back in the early ’90s. And we’d stayed friends with her. She was recording in Austin, and we’d driven down to record stuff with her for the album. So there are two Japanese girls, and one of them is actually called Yoshimi. [Eventually] we recorded a song using some of this Yoshimi (P-We) woman’s screaming (which brought to mind some kind of seismic encounter with giant robots). And that was the whole reason behind it. It wasn’t cosmic and it wasn’t a full story. But immediately, I thought, damn, I really like that, that’s a cool title. Because it implies a whole story. Right after that, we wrote the song ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ and connected three or four of these things, almost immediately. And then I painted the album cover, and we called the record ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.’ And before you know it, you’re telling people, ‘This is a story.’ It looks like a comic book or something. No wonder people think it’s a concept record – because I’m making people think it is.’”
-Wayne Coyne to utsandiego.com, October 2012
So there you have it: a love tale (based on a non-story) juxtaposed against a battle with disease …
…. a magical fable that takes place both in the modern world and on a science fiction landscape where there is an army of pink (puppet) robots – or something like that….
The Music, Man
If nothing else, Yoshimi will be the only musical – like, ever – to have a score instructing: “battle cries and kitten yelps.”
In 2007 Coyne told Billboard the Lips would “write some things to connect [their previously released] songs. That all sounds wonderful” (and likewise to World Entertainment News Network in 2010, “We would incorporate all the songs and probably write some other music that told a little bit more of a story”).
So far all that’s been publicized is musical supervisor Ron Melrose (Jersey Boys, The Wiz) used songs from three of The Flaming Lips’ most popular albums: The Soft Bulletin, At War with the Mystics and, of course, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. There’s been no indication which tunes from those records will be incorporated, how they will be set or if there is new material after all, but the San Diego casting call gave us a hint of style in requesting all cast members be “excellent dancers who are strong singers…dance style is a mix of contemporary/modern and ‘street’ hip-hop”… come ready to dance … prepare 16 bars of an alt-rock/Indie-pop style song, ala The Flaming Lips: ie. Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Jefferson Airplane, Beck, R.E.M, psychedelic-era Beatles in the event you are asked to stay and sing.”
“Music Director Ron Melrose, who worked with me on ‘Jersey Boys,’ is very inventive and imaginative, but faithful to The Lips’ songs. I’m also thrilled to have cast members Paul Nolan …and Kimiko Glenn…‘”
-Des McAnuff to lajollalight.com, October 2012
“The Flaming Lips on Broadway: Is that weird or what?”
-Flaming Lips’ manager Scott Booker circa 2005/2006, quoted by Jim Derogatis in Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips, page 215
“We’ve talked about doing something with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots now for… years. They did it with Tommy and Des McAnuff was the director, and he’s the one that wants to do Yoshimi…It’s a strange opportunity but I know we’ve talked about it since 2003.
-Wayne Coyne via World Entertainment News Network, 2010
“I played [the Yohsimi album] in the car several times and gradually got some notions about it. I met with them and Wayne, and I bounced a lot of ideas around; it was an eccentric process. I extracted story ideas and themes from three of their albums — ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,’ ‘The Soft Bulletin,’ and ‘At War with the Mystics.’ Wayne gave me feedback and his blessing. He’s a terrific songwriter, a very theatrical artist, and he responded to this in a positive way.”
-Des McAnuff to lajollalight.com, October 2012
“I mean they did it with Billy Joel [‘Movin’ Out’ on Broadway] and Queen [‘We Will Rock You’ on the West End in London] and there’s been a lot of rock-ish stuff that has been turned into fairly successful, sometimes mega-successful Broadway shows.”
-Wayne Coyne to Spinner, 2010
“This is really a theater piece based on the music and lyrics of The Flaming Lips. I want to be very clear (that) I consider Wayne Coyne to be the principal creator, because he wrote the music the show is based on. It’s a sung-through musical, by and large, so I’m not sure we’ll even credit a book anyway.”
– Des McAnuff, Summer 2012
“Des loves our stage show. We fuck with the audience quite a bit, throwing balloons and confetti at them. I think he sees all those as being new sorts of Broadway musical ideas. It isn’t just this safe thing where you sit out there with your program.”
-Wayne Coyne to Billboard, 2007
“(Like) some of these high-velocity, electric musicals that we’ve done, everybody’s going to be extremely busy in this…”
– Des McAnuff, September 2012
“I’ve run into people who thought they’d already seen it. I said, no, you haven’t seen it yet. Maybe you were on drugs that night.”
– Wayne Coyne, October 2012
“He has really blossomed not only as a musical-theater performer but as a classical actor. In all honesty, he was obvious casting for the part of Ben.”
-Des McAnuff on Paul Nolan, Summer 2012
The show was commented on late summer 2012 by Flaming Lips musical mastermind Steven Drozd, who afterall composed almost all its songs with Coyne. Although he hasn’t had much to do with its production, “excited” is the word he repeatedly uses to describe his thoughts on his music being turned into this musical. First he told kdhx.org “Wayne has checked on it, Scott is really involved. Anything that can get someone who wouldn’t otherwise be turned onto our music, I think that’s a great thing all the way around. I’m pretty excited about it.” Then he added to montereycountyweekly.com “I’m excited about it. Between you and me, I get bored with musicals. I’m not a big fan but it could only help us. Even if it fails it would be an interesting side note in the Flaming Lips story.”
What Do YOU Say?
Additionally, the album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots recently turned ten and fans have been discussing the anniversary and waxing nostalgic here.
Photos via goldlamae except as noted