SOMEWHERE OVER THE BORDER is the best new show of the year.
Chicago storefront theater is great when robust and rousing, fresh and fearless. Those qualities are in abundance in the best new play of the year - SOMEWHERE OVER THE BORDER. Brian Quijada wrote the book, lyrics, and music and is the narrator of Teatro Vista's dazzling world-premiere musical. From the opening moments to the final image, he has the audience in the palm of his hand as he sings, plays guitar, and sweetly handles several cameo but critical roles. Most impressive is his embossing of just enough of the famed Oz movie to make his mother's journey hilarious and heartrending.
Denise Yvette Serna's direction is calm when it needs to be and terrifying when it wants to be. The dances and songs are ebullient. The scene work is scorching, as the show is suspenseful and full of teachable moments. It is political theater made personal, and the pain and pleasure of the fantastic cast are shared by all.
You will be shocked that a cast of only six - and a three-piece band - can pull off a fable this big. Gabriela Moscoso (Reina) grows from a teen to an astonishing woman before your eyes, and she sings beautifully. Andrés Enriquez (Silvano/Don Napo), Amanda Raquel Martinez (Antonia/Leona), Claudia Quesada (Julia) and Teatro Vista ensemble member Tommy Rivera-Vega (Cruz/Adan) all provide oustanding support.
Choreography by Kasey Alfonso graciously nods at times to the Oz movie's great dances. Still, it has an authentic and infectious essence all its own. Yendrys Cespedes (co-orchestrator/ keyboards/percussion) leads the three-piece band with Roberto "Carpacho" Marin (upright bass) and Guido Acevedo (cajón).
All the production design elements are excellent, but Liviu Pasare's projections were outstanding, serving as emotional and geographic maps for the journey. Other designers that do great work are Yvonne Miranda (scenic design), Sarah Albrecht (costumes), Stefanie Senior (sound), Dianne Fairchild (lights), and Lonnae Hickson (props). Even the pre-show speech is unique.
Chicago theatergoers treasure memories of original musicals that went on to long lives regionally, including Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? and The Christmas Schooner, along with those that went a little farther - Million Dollar Quartet and Grease. SOMEWHERE OVER THE BORDER may not make it to Broadway, but I hope it will run for years.
Performances are May 12 - June 12, 2022, at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago. Tickets, $15-$49.50, are on sale now at teatrovista.org.