East West Players Premieres Bold, New Musical “Interstate”

Theatre review

PHOTO: Steven Lam | South Pasadena News | The cast of INTERSTATE at East West Players.

Add to your list of things to see and do during Pride Month, the bold and celebratory new musical “Interstate” at East West Players. In this Asian-American, pop-rock and poetry slam, buddy road trip, we are introduced to Dash and Adrian who form the performance duo “Queer Malady”. Dash is a transgender spoken word poet and Adrian is his lesbian singer-songwriter bandmate and best friend. The two embark on their first tour across the country for the summer, which becomes a catalyst for discoveries about themselves and their relationships. With book, music and lyrics by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, the show is based on their real life experience on tour with their band, “Good Asian Drivers”. At the same time, in a small town in Kentucky, we meet Henry, a 17 year old trans boy who idolizes Dash and has found great comfort and inspiration by following “Queer Malady” on social media.

There is a lot to root for in the stories of our three protagonists. Dash has a very supportive single Dad who tries his best to teach his son “how to be a man” with mixed results. By contrast, Adrian’s mother is not accepting, completely unsupportive of this flight of artistic fancy and is pressuring Adrian to get her law school papers turned in. As the tour progresses, Dash begins to think he has true feelings of love for Adrian while her “on a break” girlfriend shows up to lend a hand when the duo gets into some trouble with some local yahoos. All the while, we see the trials of Henry as he comes to terms, unbeknownst to his parents, with his identity through writing his vlog, expressing his feelings for a classmate and trying to confide in his pastor. As he realizes his parents and community are not accepting, Henry embarks on a road trip of his own to finally see his favorite band in person in San Francisco.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | South Pasadena News | Jupiter Lê (L, he/him) as “Dash Koi” and Jaya Joshi (R, they/them) as “Henry Ahuja” in INTERSTATE at East West Players.

Jupiter Lê is earnest and charming as Dash and has terrific chemistry with the fiesty Kristian Espiritu as Adrian. Espiritu has a beautiful voice that soars in her solo “Holding Me Down”. Lê has some standout moments as well, especially the hilarious number “Loser Dumplings”. And the two make an absolutely believable performance duo in their concert duets. Jaya Joshi is joyful in their enthusiasm and beautifully vulnerable as Henry with an exuberance as they sing “Hero” about their love of Dash.

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The five person ensemble is stellar with each playing multiple roles. Krystle Simmons is a standout as Adrian’s girlfriend and breaks your heart when she has her solo, “Invisible”. Michelle Noh is compelling as Adrian’s driven and manipulative mother. Her scenes are painful to watch so it’s actually nice to also see Noh being funny and whipping out dance moves as other characters! Reuben Uy is so touching and hilarious as Dash’s well meaning father trying to navigate being supportive while also being afraid for his son. Stefan Miller makes for a deceptively understanding pastor among other roles while Natalie Holt MacDonald is a terrifically annoying record exec and sweet but simple high school girl. They all work beautifully together and make the most of the ebullient Annie Yee choreography.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | South Pasadena News | The cast of INTERSTATE at East West Players.

“Interstate” is a much needed shot of celebration in the times we are living in as well as a giant dose of pride and acceptance. I only wanted more of this celebratory, rock and roll vibe they are going for. I would like to see them go all in with that by perhaps having the band on stage and literally cranking everything up a notch to match the concert energy of the story.

“Interstate” with book by Melissa Le and Kit Yan, Music and Lyrics by Melissa Li. Poetry and additional lyrics by Kit Yan. Directed by Jesca Prudencio. Runs through June 26, 2022 at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Performance times are 8 PM Friday to Saturday (some Thursdays), with 2 PM matinees on Saturday, and 5pm performances on Sunday. Ticket prices range from $39 to $59. A Pay-What-You-Can performance is scheduled for June 13th and June 20th at 8PM. Tickets may be purchased online at eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000.

All patrons must show proof of vaccination and photo ID to be admitted into the theater. EWP has implemented numerous COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure that artists and audience members are able to safely enjoy their experience. For more information about these measures please visit EastWestPlayers.org/covid-19/