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Most of today’s hit musicals are fluffy romances based on hit movies—but there are other ways to draw a crowd. So far, the Public Theater has rung the gong twice with a pair of shows, “Fun Home” and “Hamilton,” that flew in the face of all the rules of contemporary box-office success. Now it’s trying again with “Miss You Like Hell,” a new musical by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Erin McKeown that has a timely political edge, an ethnically diverse cast and a score by a singer-songwriter who knows how to rock. What’s more, it’s good—really good.
“Miss You Like Hell” is the story of Beatriz (Daphne Rubin-Vega), an undocumented immigrant who shows up one morning on the doorstep of Olivia (Gizel Jiménez), her eggheady, long-estranged daughter. Beatriz wants Olivia to join her on a cross-country road trip, but she isn’t just looking to tighten the ties that bind: She urgently needs a character witness to testify at her deportation hearing….
Based on a play by Ms. Hudes, who wrote the book for “In the Heights” and won a Pulitzer for “Water by the Spoonful,” “Miss You Like Hell” is in no way a piece of pamphleteering (set in 2014, it makes no mention of Donald Trump). Its real subject is the tattered relationship between Beatriz and her wholly deracinated child, who lost her mother in a custody battle and cannot forgive Beatriz for giving in so easily…
Like “Water by the Spoonful,” “Miss You Like Hell” steers a bit erratically between sentiment and sentimentality, but it scarcely ever descends to outright tearjerking, and Ms. McKeown’s score heightens every emotion so skillfully that you’d think this was her third or fourth show instead of her theatrical debut….
Every generation has its own what-high-school-is-like movie. For the millennials, it’s Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls,” a softened-up 2004 variation on “Heathers” that retells the old, old story of the pretty but nerdy girl who sells her soul to the most popular girl in town. It’s funny enough, and so, I suppose, is the new musical version, which stars Erika Henningsen and Taylor Louderman and into which Ms. Fey has inserted a shovelful of once-over-lightly topical references (“I liked your post about Intersectional Veganism”) but which is otherwise hard to distinguish from the film…
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To read my review of Miss You Like Hell, go here.
To read my review of Mean Girls, go here.
Erin McKeown and Gizel Jiménez perform “Sundays,” a song from Miss You Like Hell: