San Diegans are lucky to have the La Jolla Playhouse in our back yard -- it could be argued that the iconic venue is the home of rock & roll theater. It's hard to believe The Who's Tommy started at the Playhouse and now it can also boast being the birthplace of the theatrical version of the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
Like very few acts before them, the Flaming Lips -- and band leader Wayne Coyne -- have taken one of their seminal albums and successfully turned it into a theatrical musical. It was the Flaming Lips' good luck to have the production directed by Tony Award winner Des McAnuff of Jersey Boys fame.
I feel very fortunate to have sat in on an early rehearsal, attended opening night and recently interviewed Nik Walker, who plays Booker, one of the show's romantic leads, on my FM 94/9 radio show.
"You know what it's based on?" Walker replied to my question about the style of the show. "If you watch any anime, that's a lot of what the style of the show is -- almost like 'live action' anime."
While the production features cool anime style elements, glowing robot costumes and a 14-foot robot puppet, for many the highlight of the evening is the music. That's not to say you have to be familiar with the Flaming Lips to enjoy the show; La Jolla Playhouse's staging of Yoshimi is spectacular for the uninitiated as well. The music is primarily from the 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but some new songs were written by Coyne just for the production. For me, a highlight was when the cast performed "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)," which is from The Flaming Lips 2006 album At War With the Mystics.
Action, romance and a love triangle are the focus of the story, but it's Yoshimi's battle with the robots that drives the play. The songs flow and dovetail with the story, and the actors do justice to every single nuance from the Flaming Lips' catalog employed during the production. The choreographed fight scenes are nothing short of spectacular, featuring a small army of glowing robots who battle Yoshimi. The actors cast in the three main roles (Booker; Kimiko Glenn as Yoshimi; and the third leg in the love triangle, Paul Nolan as Ben) are phenomenal and carry the show in their own way, whether it's showcasing Ben's quirky traits, Yoshimi's fierceness or Booker's steadfastness -- they all are the leads during their moments onstage.
The show closes with "Do You Realize??," which is one of the most successful songs the Flaming Lips ever released and a poignant summarization of the story. Yoshimi leaves you with the feeling that life is short and that you need to live life to the fullest while on planet Earth, because we're all floating in space. The story is strong, albeit a little depressing -- those pink robots are actually stand-ins for cancer cells -- but life has to be felt, and you should feel this production at your earliest convenience (it runs through Dec. 16).
One final note: You may want to bring some tissue; even I was brought to tears.
Tim Pyles hosts The Local 94/9, FTP show and the Coup d'Eat on FM94/9 on Sundays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. He also books local acts at the Casbah and hosts the weekly Anti-Monday League. Check out his website and follow him on Twitter @thelocalpyle. You can reach him directly here firstname.lastname@example.org