WORLD PREMIERE!!! The Next Great American Musical as it Turns Out, is Actually a Queer Asian Musical. “Interstate” Floors it at Mixed Blood Theatre.

Kai Alexander Judd and Rose Van Dyne in INTERSTATE Photo by Rich Ryan

Interstate is why I do this. This entire blog’s genesis was around the idea of having a way to let people know when there was great theater happening in our state. This is it boys, girls, and they/them’s – this is the one. Interstate, which is having its world premiere at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis is undoubtedly the best original musical to come along in years. A perfect cast brings the music, words, and hearts of its creators Melissa Li and Kit Yan to life. This is their story specifically, but it speaks to all of us. We talk about representation in the arts whether it be theatre, a TV show, movies, whatever. Interstate is about representation on every level from characters to casting. It’s also just great theatre, filled with songs that find a way into your heart immediately. A story set in 2008 that’s timely and important right at this moment in history. A tale that has to be told and these are the people to tell it.

Interstate is the story of Dash an Asian transgender spoken word poet and Adrian a lesbian singer songwriter. Together they form the Asian queer duo, Queer Malady. Queer Malady is on a cross country tour sharing their music and words with fans and building followers through their YouTube videos. Being Asian, queer, and having a desire towards activism, they have different priorities that will cause friction as they continue across the country. Their story is intercut with that of Henry, a South Asian Transgender 16 year old, living in Kentucky who has discovered Queer Malady on YouTube and found a hero specifically in Dash. Henry is not out to anyone but begins a blog to chronicle his journey and to connect with others who are on similar journeys. We blog to know we are not alone. Through Henry, we are shown the importance of seeing yourself reflected in the world around you, he is lost and confused and unsure how to be his true self until he discovers Dash online. When he finds Dash and Queer Malady’s music he sees a way forward.

The entire cast is excellent and should move immediately from here to Broadway after the show closes. The three leads deserve special mention. Kai Alexander Judd plays Dash to Rose Van Dyne’s Adrian, together they make Queer Malady seem like a duo that has been performing together for years. They both have excellent voices that ideally complement each other. They have a great chemistry on stage, believable as best friends whether they are joking around or screaming at each other, there is never a false note. They are superb, and as great as they are, it is Sushma Saha who plays Henry that is going to knock your socks off. They have a voice so beautiful that I found tears on my cheeks before their first song ended. Saha is not just a great voice though, there is a scene that takes place at Henry’s church. I don’t recall them even having a line of dialogue in the scene, but using just their eyes, broke my heart with their performance. All three actors impress with their commitment and willingness to go to very vulnerable places. The show doesn’t flinch away from dealing with aspects of transgender life that are not as well known, such as binders, top surgery, T-injections, and neither do the performers.

Sushma Saha in INTERSTATE Photo by Rich Ryan

The Book for the show co-written by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, music and lyrics by Li and poetry, and additional lyrics by Yan owes something to Rent. There are some stylistic similarities but it is an original and unique story. Those similarities are its strengths and only goes to prove what an influential show that was. Interstate also shares that sense of power and importance that Rent has. Li and Yan are committed to representation, their characters are on tour to reach out to and speak for the Asian Queer community, and the show itself holds to those values. Steadfastly, casting artists that represent the characters as written, the importance of which is echoed in one of Henry’s lines in the show, he says he’s starting the online blog because it’s the only place he sees someone like himself. The truly amazing aspect is how perfectly it flows within the narrative of the show. These are the themes and they are served well in the telling a very human and moving story. Often times a show that you might say has an agenda leads with it’s message and becomes self important. Interstate is a story about characters that we come to empathize with tremendously and through their tale, their message is conveyed. Li and Yan’s lyrics are some of the richest I have heard, songs that are so well crafted are rare even in big hit broadway musicals. A version of the show in progress played at the New York Musical Festival is where it won the award for Outstanding Lyrics.

Directed by Jesca Prudencio and assisted by Shannon TL Kerans the productions speeds along like Queer Malady roaring down the interstate highway. Scenic and Projection Designer Justin Humphres does a great job with what amounts to not a lot in the way of a set. Good use of projection and some really clever elements such as the car headlights in the floor are all that is needed. The rest is handled with Genoveva Castaneda’s well chosen props. It’s simple without feeling simple. We don’t need elaborate sets that evoke the details of the real world, the story and music have already transported us there.

I encourage everyone to see and take advantage of the opportunity to see this show. We’re so fortunate that something this great is having its world premiere here. In a perfect world, this show with this cast would move from here to Broadway, but the world isn’t perfect, so don’t miss the opportunity. This is one of those rare productions that you want to capture on film so you can view it over and over, but that is not what live theatre is. You have to seize the day, don’t miss it! Lastly, don’t wait until the last showing; there’s a good chance you’ll want to see it again or tell someone else to. I’ve already booked to see it again this Wednesday. For more information about Interstate and to purchase your tickets go to https://mixedblood.com/. Content warning. There is strong racial slurs and trans and homophobic language. There is also a scene of fairly graphic sexuality, no nudity but you should be aware of it. It is probably appropriate for anyone over 16 for those under that age, you know your own child best. I’d offer as guidance that it is on par with Rent in terms of these depictions, hopefully that helps guide you.

Preview: Plan Ahead for the World Premiere of “Interstate” a New Queer Asian Pop-Rock Poetry Musical at Mixed Blood Theatre March 6-29

Photo by Rich Ryan

As many of you know my youngest son is transgender and gay. When a show comes along that represents his community, I try and make a point to see it with him if I can. Representation is an important aspect of art and culture. It’s vitally important for everyone to see themselves represented in the world around them. There are a lot of LGBTQ shows this winter and spring, all of them look super interesting. You can find my reviews for a couple of shows Superman Becomes Lois Lane which closes this weekend at the History Theatre and Significant Other which closes March 8th here and here I highly recommend both. I already had Interstate on my radar, tickets secured, and it was probably my most anticipated upcoming show based on what I already knew of it. When my community, The Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB), were invited to go and spend some time with the Creators of Interstate I jumped at the chance.

Melissa Li and Kit Yan

Interstate is the creation of Melissa Li (she/her/hers) and Kit Yan (He/She/They) and was inspired by a cross country tour they undertook in 2008 performing in 32 states. Melissa co-wrote the Book for the musical as well as the music and lyrics. She has written other musicals as well including Surviving the Nian Which was a Jonathan Larson Grant Recipient. Kit co-wrote the book as well as writing poetry and additional lyrics for Interstate. Kit’s show Queer Heartaches has won five awards at the Chicago and SF Fringe Festivals. They are currently collaborating on a new musical comedy Miss Step which from what I’ve read I sure hope I get a chance to see it on a Twin Cities stage in the near future. That’s just the tip of the iceberg with these two warm and inviting artists, if you are interested in learning more about them check out their websites http://melissali.com/ and https://kityanpoet.com/. Listening To Kit and Melissa talk about the shows genesis it’s easy to see that they have poured their heart and souls into this project. Semi Autobiographical, it deals with a multitude of themes. Their friendship, which in real life, didn’t survive their tour. Kit described Melissa as his nemesis for awhile until they finally made up. It tells the story of queer Asian duo Dash and Adrian as they tour the nation. Dash is a transgender spoken word poet, and Adrian a lesbian singer-songwriter. The tour takes place in 2008 at the dawn of social media as we know it. Their music is discovered by Henry, a south Asian transgender sixteen year old (hey my Trans son is 16) blogger (hey I’m a blogger) from middle America. Henry decides to seek out and meet his heroes. Li’s site calls it a

“Story about how two transgender people at different stages of their journey navigate love, family, masculinity, and finding community in the era of social media.”

melissali.com/theater

Can you see why I’m excited for this show? On top of that I have been listening to the songs the last couple of days and I really like this music. Melissa described the music as being three distinct styles. First there is the band’s songs they perform, those seem steeped in spoken word and contain some powerful messages. Secondly, there are more standard “musical” songs, where the characters sing about their feelings rather than speak them like we are used to in contemporary musical theater. Thirdly, Henry’s more electronic youth music. I’m looking forward to hearing all of it live. Kit and Melissa stressed how adamant they are about casting transgender actors in the transgender roles and casting asian actors. This speaks to the representation I addressed earlier, and an important factor in the casting.

We were lucky enough when we met up that the three young stars stopped by. Meeting them and talking with them it’s clear they found the perfect Dash, Adrian and Henry. Kai Alexander Judd plays Dash. Sushma Saha plays Henry, and Rose Van Dyne is Adrian. They range in age from 21 to 23 and a more open and engaging group of young performers you’d ever want to meet. They had just gotten back from grabbing dinner together and you could tell they were all enjoying each others company. I have a feeling they are going to rock our worlds come March 6th.

Before I let you go I do want to point out a couple of other shows opening soon that have a LGBTQ aspect to them. Uprising Theatre Company is doing a series of 4 new plays this year by transgender or nonbinary playwrights. The first of these runs March 6th through 23rd and is entitled Doctor Voynich and Her Children. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets https://www.uprisingtheatreco.com/. The other is Illusion Theater’s show The Pink Unicorn which runs Fri – Sun Feb 28 thru March 1st and Thurs, Fri, Sun March 12, 13, 15. for more information and to purchase tickets for this show click on http://www.illusiontheater.org/

Don’t wait for my review of Interstate, I’m fairly confident from what I’ve heard and seen already that this is going to be a show to remember. For tickets go to https://mixedblood.com/on-stage/interstate/ . Keep in mind that Mixed Blood have several programs to help make theatre accessible to everyone. Copied from the Mixed Blood theatre website are these programs:

RADICAL HOSPITALITY

Through Radical Hospitality, admission is provided at no-cost for folks who find cost a barrier to attending Mixed Blood. Admission is on a first come, first served basis. The box office opens two hours before every show; seating begins 30 minutes before show time and is general admission (no assigned seats).

and:

Interstate Buy One Give One

$70.00

Mixed Blood is proud to host OutFront Minnesota’s Youth Leadership Council as INTERSTATE’s Radical Hospitality partner.  When you pay it forward with a “Buy One, Give One” ticket purchase, you guarantee your own admission and underwrite admission for a Youth Leadership Council member, too.  OutFront Minnesota’s mission is to create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender, and queer people are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination. OutFront’s Youth Leadership Council is a year-long leadership program for a select group of LGBTQ+ student leaders who meet twice a month. The Leadership Council is crucial in the planning and execution of our annual Youth Summit which brings together more than 500 LGBTQ+ and allied students and educators from across the state to collaborate, learn, and take action.