The world premiere musical Los Otros opened last week at Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles to unenthusiastic reviews. The creative team is Ellen Fitzhugh (book and lyrics), Michael John LaChiusa (music), Graciela Daniele (direction), Christopher Barreca (sets), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lights), Jon Weston (sound), and Bruce Coughlin (orchestrations). The cast of the two-hander includes Julio Monge and Michele Pawk.
Eric Marches (Back Stage): Really more like two solo musicals grafted together, as Michele Pawk and Julio Monge don’t share the stage until the evening’s closing minutes. … Everything about the show is modest, low-key, and unassuming, from LaChiusa’s score and music director Chris Fenwick’s conducting of it to Graciela Daniele’s direction and set designer Christopher Barreca’s sandy beach and bright, cloud-filled sky. As the show is almost entirely sung, Fitzhugh’s lyrics occupy the bulk of the evening, her book comprising just a few words here and there. While some of the text achieves a sense of lyricism, the narrative nature of the sung content sounds almost like everyday speech set to music, far more banal than poetic. Nor is the show’s music anything special. … Hopefully, further rewrites will yield something more extraordinary.
Charles McNulty (LA Times): This small-scale show … taxies down the runway during its nearly 90-minute running time without ever soaring into flight. … Fitzhugh’s text provides the lyrics for what seem more like recitatives than songs. The creators’ approach could generously be described as “oblique,” but “diffuse” may be more accurate. … The fragmentary narratives lack both lyricism and shape. It’s a case of two characters in search of a dramatist who could lead them even momentarily out of the margins into an animating spotlight. … The music, although captivating in its unmelodic way, is too discreet to play anything other than a supporting role. … Los Otros is curious about the manifold layers of personal identity, but in a desultory way that deprives the work of sufficient dramatic pressure.
Bob Verini (Variety): Thanks to the immodestly talented Michele Pawk and Julio Monge, it all goes down smooth, though the physical production is overscaled, and both theme and characters start to evaporate in the mind before you even hit the Mark Taper’s lobby. … Fitzhugh’s workmanlike lyrics are bright, and La Chiusa weaves in distinct musical styles … to carry us along on a gentle but never bravura waft of melody. All this ordinariness, however, cuts both ways, for Los Otros is insistent on withholding anything dramatic we could sink our teeth into. … Los Otros eventually gets around to making its otherness statement – there are no “others”; we’re all the same – which is welcome in these fractured political times but falls short of achieving the intended emotional impact.
Lyle Zimskind (LAist): Both characters’ stories achieve significant narrative peaks, and veteran Broadway director-choreographer Graciela Daniele wrings the most out of every dramatic opportunity. But the structural novelty of composer Michael John LaChiusa and librettist Ellen Fitzhugh’s experimental musical never quite loosens its hold on our consciousness of the production, subsuming whatever power its other elements might plausibly generate. With two impressive performances and an intriguing musical score, Los Otros probably wowed small invited audiences in its workshop phase, but it doesn’t quite work the room at the Mark Taper. It’s still an interesting show, with ample material to like, but don’t expect a crowd-pleaser.