In the opening scene of Matthew Lopez’s excellent new play Somewhere, two brothers, Francisco and Alejandro, are battling it out in the living room of their Manhattan tenement. It is the summer of 1959 and the brothers, young Puerto Ricans, are supposed to be packing the family’s belongings before the bulldozers arrive to demolish the building later that week. The play begins in the midst of this escalating heated exchange and violence seems immanent. The palpable machismo of the moment is brilliantly and abruptly ruptured when we learn that they are not actually fighting each other, but rehearsing a scene from Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront for Francisco’s acting class. The Candelaria brothers, it turns out, are deeply entrenched in the performing arts; the play showcases their investments in film, theatre, and dance in ways that underline the role of the arts in their lives. Consider that the brothers are interrupted only when their mother, Inez, and younger sister, Rebecca, return from their jobs ushering at West Side Story at the Winter Garden, raving about Chita Rivera’s performance before arguing with the boys about the merits of Leonard Bernstein’s music for On the Waterfront and West Side Story. This family’s argot is that of musical theatre and popular culture. The fact that Inez, a Latina Mama Rose, was played by Tony Award–winning Broadway veteran Priscilla Lopez (A Chorus Line, A Night in the Ukraine, Anna in the Tropics, In the Heights), only added to the delight that the play consistently delivered as the production unfolded.
Somewhere, which takes its title from West Side Story—specifically, Tony and Maria’s iconic song about the hope for a “place for us”—is a dramatic homage to the Golden Age of Broadway. Each of the four central characters is immersed so much in the culture of Broadway that it has become constitutive to their sense of self and one another. The 20-year-old Alejandro first worked on Broadway as a child in the King and I, although he has given up performing, despite his mother’s protests, in order to help with the family’s expenses; Francisco, his 21-year-old brother, while less successful as an actor, carries the optimism, enthusiasm, and ambition that his younger sibling has lost; their mother, herself a cabaret singer, behaves as if Chita, Ethel, and Jerome are all familial intimates; and Rebecca, an aspiring dancer and the youngest at age 17, hopes to be cast in the upcoming film version of West Side Story, which seems likely given that the brothers’ best friend, Jamie, is Jerome Robbins’s assistant.
The production at the Old Globe maximized the versatility of the actors—essential to Matthew Lopez’s dramaturgical showcase of a family of artists—by incorporating music, performance, and especially dance (beautifully choreographed by Greg Graham) throughout the show. We saw the brothers rehearsing their acting scenes; the sister dancing solo as Maria in West Side Story as she set the table for the family dinner; and the two boyhood friends, Alejandro and Jamie, attempting to recreate the specific choreography of an old sequence in an extended dance scene, which nearly stole the show. In Somewhere, someone is always performing! The Candelarias are their own best variety show, and their own best audience too. Despite the family’s boisterous pleasure in all things Broadway, the Candelarias face several challenging dilemmas that need immediate attention. Their building—in truth most of, if not their entire, neighborhood—is being razed to make room for Robert Moses’s Lincoln Center. The play addresses the complicated politics of urban renewal and ethnic belonging, as most of the inhabitants evacuated to a housing project in Brooklyn are Puerto Rican. Matthew Lopez’s subtle yet persuasive perspective asked us to consider what is lost and gained in the name of cultural progress.
The play is ambitious; it is difficult, for example, to contain the play within a limited plot line. Is it about the bonds of kinship? The role of...