Theater Review: FOUND (IAMA Theatre Company)

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by Marc Wheeler on February 24, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles


Found: A New Musical is determined to find its way. After a run off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2014, this reworked West Coast premiere —  now playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in Downtown L.A., stumbles through its first act with vague ambitions, disconnection, and cloying clichés, only to return post-intermission leaning into its quirkiness, discovering its heart, and, ultimately, coming into its own.

Produced by IAMA Theatre Company (this being their first musical) and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Found is loosely based on the life of Davy Rothbart, co-creator of Found Magazine and Found books. A publication from the early aughts dedicated to the reproduction of found items (love letters, to-do lists, poems on napkins, etc.), Found is a wide-reaching glimpse into our shared humanity that is at once humorous, bland, heartwarming, and bizarre.

Upon losing his job in social media, Davy (Jonah Platt, a purposeful “everyman”) is determined to make something of his life. After discovering an amusing note (clearly intended for someone else) left on his car, he gets the idea to create a physical publication featuring reproductions of similarly “found” items. With a little coaxing, he convinces his gay roommate Mikey D (joyful Mike Millan) and favorite bartender/unrequited crush Denise (moody Jordan Kai Burnett) to join forces. What ensues is a tale of chance-taking, love, and our collective peculiarities.

As a nod to the characters’ local hangout, set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer has staged the musical in a bar-like atmosphere with audience members seated at small tables circling the main action. Because the work promotes human connection, theatergoers face one another, a choice some may find distracting, vulnerable, or surprisingly comforting. (Fortunately, the show itself demands more of our attention.) Yee Eun Nam’s projections of many real-life “found” items are especially effective, allowing audiences to see them in their original form. Some get a quick mention, others inspire full songs. Because these notes are written by real people (many, presumably, not poets), their ability to captivate ranges. Fortunately, as the story progresses, these cutaway moments – occuring frequently throughout the show – become less tangents pulling focus and more complementary enhancements to the larger story.

Such maturation over the course of the show can also be found in the music and subplots. In Act I’s “Something That I Love,” for instance, the jobless Davy affirms his desire to do something that he loves, with people that he loves. The song is earnest and hopeful, but its vague directionlessness stalls the action. Chorus refrains are repeated throughout the musical, so later – when we know what this “something” is and who these “people” are – the song carries more weight (and its hook has become an earworm). Similarly, a childish love triangle on the work’s front end blooms into something more honest and meaningful on its back end.

While the leading players deliver solid performances, the featured ensemble (Desi Dennis-Dylan, Sheila Carrasco, Zehra Fazal, Parvesh Cheena, Tom DeTrinis, and Ryan Garcia) are the unsung heroes of the show. As they step into a multitude of roles – inhabiting whatever characters are presumed to have inspired all the “found” writings – they provide a snowballing supply of laughs. In them, Tilly Grimes’ delightfully silly costumes and Kathryn Burns’ explosive choreography (working around the theater’s many tables) are able to truly shine.

With a book by Hunter Bell (Broadway’s [title of show]) and Story Pirates’ Lee Overtree, Found scores big in its comedy (especially after the break); one of its distinct highlights is Jordan Kai Burnett’s rendition of “Barf Bag Breakup,” a song composed to discovered words (music and original lyrics Eli Bolin). While Burnett displays Denise’s angst too early in the show, here she appropriately lets loose, filling the theater with her rich vibrato and breaking our hearts.

Found, as with Rent before it, props up the down-and-out and urges us to “be here, now,” take a chance, and connect. Through its voyeuristic qualities, it allows us to see ourselves in a parade of anonymous strangers, people who likely have no idea their words – such as “Dear Mom, summer camp isn’t fun anymore, everyone is dying” – have been published, much less featured (even sung!) onstage from NY to L.A. While this reworked mounting still could use some tweaks, by its end it’s found itself – and won us over.

photos by Jeff Lorch

IAMA Theatre Company
The Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street DTLA
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 4; Mon at 8
ends on March 23, 2020
for tickets, call 323.380.8843
or visit IAMA

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