Playhouse launches world premiere of 'The Outsiders'
"The Outsiders" is a new musical with its world premiere opening soon at La Jolla Playhouse. It's based on the 1967 novel by S.E. Hinton, which was adapted into a movie in 1983 by Francis Ford Coppola. For the stage adaptation, Adam Rapp wrote the book, and the music was co-written by Justin Levine and the Americana band Jamestown Revival.
The story follows teenager Ponyboy Curtis (portrayed by Brody Grant) and his best friend Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch) in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the late 1960s. It focuses on two rival gangs, the "Greasers" and the "Socs."
"I'm not sure how you spell it, but it's the abbreviation for the Socials, the jet set, the West-side rich kids. It's like the term "greaser," which is used to class all us boys on the East side," narrates Ponyboy in the opening chapter of Hinton's book.
Danya Taymor directs La Jolla Playhouse's world premiere production, and she said that the characters are just trying to get by.
"It's a story about class warfare, it's a story about chosen family and belonging, and it's also a story about masculinity and all its forms, and its tenderness and its aggression and rage, and its love. And at its heart, I think it is about friendship and belonging," Taymor said.
An enduring story
"One thing I really admire about the way Susie wrote the book is she has incredible compassion for every character — even the characters that she presents so honestly, she's not afraid to show faults in every character. So there's nobody who's only virtuous and there's no character who's only evil, which I find so honest to the world," Taymor said.
"The Outsiders" at The La Jolla Playhouse
Feb. 19 through April 2, 2023.
Preview performances run Feb. 19 through Mar. 3. Opening night is Mar. 4 and it will be on stage through April. 2.
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays
8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays
2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays
Tickets and more information here.
The enduring success of the book and movie add an element of responsibility to Taymor as she directs the musical's world premiere — but she also recognizes a freedom with this new platform.
"A sense of responsibility, for me, is what drives me to do justice to the story," Taymor said, adding that she met Susie Hinton (the novel's author) in Tulsa as she researched for the production. "Something that Susie said to me when I was there is, she said, 'Make your version; mine already exists.' And that was extremely freeing to get the blessing from the author to make a version that speaks to today."
Class, race and gender
Taymor said that this adaptation is true to the realities of the time and place, but also crafts relevance for audiences now and in the future.
"This is Tulsa, 1967, which is such a particular time in this country," Taymor said. The Vietnam War, poverty, classism and uprisings and violence centered on race — a "boiling point and a breaking point," she added.
Dr. Michael Ralph, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, is part of the project as an anthropologist to keep the production accurate to Tulsa's history. In this adaption, several of the Greasers are written to be performed by diverse actors, though the Socs — and the Greasers who attend the same school as the Socs — are all white, because their school, Will Rogers High School, was still a segregated school.
In terms of gender, Taymor said that the script also leaves room for diversity and nonbinary actors.
"I think in the future of this musical, there could be some really interesting casting for certain characters that isn't necessarily binary," Taymor said. "That's part of what makes 'The Outsiders' so special, is that when you read it, you can project yourself onto it."
A sound that 'feels like going home'
The music is what fully drew Taymor in to the project. The show has a nine-piece orchestra, with an Americana sound.
"It's funky, and it's so good, and it's so from the heart, and it's so visceral, so that's something that I find really unique to the musical theater world. It does what it needs to do storytelling-wise, but it feels like going home, you know?" Taymor said. "There's a ton of Bill Withers influence in it. There's some Bonnie Rait. There's The Band. It just feels like America to me in all of its chaos and beauty."
A physical show
Much of the story revolves around physical fight scenes. The choreography team, brothers Rick and Jeff Kuperman, grew up dancing and fighting together.
"Something that was so important to me was that the language of dance and the language of fight, and the language of scene all felt like one," Taymor said.
"The fighting is visceral — as Adam Rapp says in the book (script), 'you should want to run up on stage and save these kids,'" Taymor said.
In one scene, a "rumble," as Taymor describes it, all 19 members of the cast are fighting on stage. "It's muddy, and by the end of that fight, the characters are indistinguishable from one another, which I think is part of the point that Susie was trying to make."
The next 'Jersey Boys'?
When asked whether the cast and crew is hearing the buzz about this musical being "the next 'Jersey Boys'" — i.e. a show that originated at the La Jolla Playhouse before skyrocketing to Broadway success — Taymor said they're focused on this production, but excited for its future.
"I hope this goes everywhere. And even more than Broadway, I hope this goes into high schools all over the country and all over the world," Taymor said about wanting to see high school theater programs take on this new musical adaptation of the classic novel. "I just imagine what it could be like to be a high schooler working on this material, and what it allows young people to investigate and expose in themselves — and how healthy that could be. So that's my real dream, is for young people to get their hands on this, and make their own versions of this, and sing their hearts out and explore feelings and emotions and ways of being that society tells them not to do. That's my real dream."