By Jim Gilles
Photos By Jenny Graham
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/30/22 – Saturday night in Hollywood was the world premiere of a new musical Singing Revolution on the Main Stage of the Broadwater Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard. Singing Revolution: The Musical sets a tale of star-crossed lovers against the beautiful, moving and timeless true story of Estonia’s 1987 song-filled, peaceful uprising against the Soviet Union. Featuring a crowd-pleasing Europop score by Tony Spinosa, who also directs; book and lyrics by Spinosa and James Bearhart; music direction by Brent Crayon; and choreography by Tracey Benson. Set in Tallinn, Estonia and spanning four decades, Singing Revolution is inspired by the actual events that led to Estonian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The tiny country’s journey to freedom through the power of song acts as a reminder to us all that the power of peaceful resistance can change the world. Twenty triple-threat performers and a five-piece band will bring an inspirational new musical based on historical events to life.
“When I first learned about Estonia’s ‘Singing Revolution,’ a light bulb went off in my head,” says Spinosa. “People literally singing as a shield against Soviet attacks is a story I knew I needed to tell.” “Once word got out that I was working on this musical, TV shows began to approach me for interviews,” he continues. “I was introduced to the Estonian consul in New York City, who connected me with Estonia’s minister of culture in Tallinn. I was able to interview many of the leaders of the Singing Revolution, most of whom are still alive and still living in Estonia. With their help, I began to discover the passion and integrity of Estonian culture and the heart of this musical’s story.”
In the play, Estonian student Taavi Tamm, who will later become a leader of the Estonian resistance (James Everts, seen in Chicago for Plan-B Entertainment and Newsies at Candlelight Pavilion), falls in love with Sofia, daughter of a Soviet officer (Bella Hicks: Sweet Charity for Reprise 2.0, American Idiot at La Mirada). Meanwhile, Taavi’s teacher Leena (Krista Feallock: All Shook Up at San Diego Musical Theatre, Allegory at La Jolla Playhouse WOW Fest) and her Russian colleague, Viktor (Lucas Alifano, recently seen in Death of a Salesman at the Ruskin Group Theater) find themselves similarly drawn to one another.
Singing Revolution is a fairly complex 2-1/2-hour production with an intermission. It is helpful to have some knowledge of the historical background of the Baltic states and their situation after the end of World War II when Stalin’s Soviet Union seized control of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. The production is a highly stylized interpretation of historical events, and in that, shares the space of other historical musicals like Les Miserables and Hamilton. At the opening night, it seemed that the older crowd was more aware of the story of Soviet occupation and the liberation of the Baltic states in relatively peaceful revolutions beginning in 1989. Younger audience members seemed to have trouble digesting the significance of that chunk of history that took place 30 years ago.
The musical has an interesting timeline as its structure: We are taken back to the early 1950s when the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin forced the Baltic states into submission, arresting thousands of men and sending them off to work camps in Siberia. The central character in the story Taavi Tamm is an adolescent in school when his father is arrested and deported. The story shifts to more contemporary times in the late 1980s with the resistance to Soviet occupation increasing under Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union seems to be collapsing – and here many years later the same Taavi Tamm is a leader of Estonia’s pacifist Singing Revolution. Act I ends with another time shift to the 1960s when Tavvi becomes smitten with love for Sofia, the daughter of the Soviet commanding officer in Estonia. Despite protests from her father, Sofia marries Taavi – the complication that sets us for a dramatic presentation in Act 2 of the events that occurred between the 1960s and the end of the 1980s. The cast includes a talented set of performers who are both singers and dancers, as there is considerable movement on stage in this production, including a ballet enactment in Act 2 of the mental states of the lead characters. The ensemble, appearing as students, patriots, soldiers and more, includes Emily Abeles, Melanie Au-Yeung, Lacey Beegun, Mitchell Lam Hau, Thomas Hollow, Brandon Kallen, Marissa Ruth Mayer, Chet Norment, Brandon Keith Rogers, Michael Swain-Smith and Kelsey Lee Smith.
Michael Scott Harris (Ragtime with Musical Theatre West, Shooting Star at the Hudson) plays Sofia’s father, Soviet commander Nikolai Solokov. Renée Wylder (The Last Five Years at Cupcake Theater, Little Women: The Musical and Daddy Long Legs at PCPA in Santa Maria) and Adam Wylie (Into the Woods on Broadway, Wicked at the Pantages, Brad Langford on Gilmore Girls) portray the parents of Taavi, with Wylie doubling as Joseph Stalin — alongside Anthony Marciona (Broadway/national touring productions of Gypsy, Zorba, Tommy, Starlight Express, Bronco Billy and Ballroom) as Vladimir Lenin and Peter Van Norden (2019 Ovation award for best actor in The Hothouse at the Antaeus, 2020 Ovation nomination for best featured actor in Red Ink at Playwright’s Arena) as Mikhail Gorbachev.
“Singing Revolution” is a commonly used name for the nonviolent movement that led to the 1991 restoration of independence of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the Soviet Union. Starting in 1987, Estonians engaged in a series of mass demonstrations, including spontaneous singing of national songs which were banned during the Soviet occupation. Raising the banned Estonian flag while gathering en masse and singing banned patriotic songs, the movement eventually gained the support of the republic’s ruling Communist Party in defying Moscow, faced down Soviet tanks, and successfully declared Estonian independence.
Tony Spinosa is a producer, stage director, choreographer, writer, arts leader and performer. He has directed over 50 theatrical productions across the United States. At a very early age, Tony was mentored by theater legend Michael Bennett, and he made his Broadway debut in Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby. Tony became the resident director of the Tony Award-winning, Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles in 2010.
Performances of Singing Revolution: The Musical take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., January 29 through March 6. All tickets are $40, except previews, which are $30. The Broadwater Theatre Main Stage is located at 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Proof of vaccination is required for admission. Masks must be worn throughout the performance. For reservations and information, visit singingrevolutionthemusical.