Kevin Odekirk and Hila Plitmann in
Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings
(© Ed Krieger)
Kevin Odekirk and Hila Plitmann in
Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings
(© Ed Krieger)
It's difficult to know where to begin in talking about the extraordinary experience that is Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, the first musical being presented by Pasadena's Theatre @ Boston Court. What first must be acknowledged is that this spectacular new musical proudly defies easy description and categorization. In fact, "musical theater" seems an unfairly minimalist tag to attach to this ambitious work -- which is much more operatic and far-reaching than traditional musical theater fare.

While the small but classy Theatre @ Boston Court is not quite four years old, in terms of production values, caliber of casts, artistic vision, and an overall willingness to take risks, it often rivals -- and in this case, just plain out-ranks -- many of the more high-profile Los Angeles houses that have been around for decades. Moreover, with its epic scope of storytelling, its mythological, religious and fantastical heritage, and its multi-musical form, Paradise Lost would present any theater with a big challenge.

The story concerns a band of child angels whose parents secluded them behind a great cloud-covered wall 17 years previous for protection while they went off to do battle. As a further precaution, the children's wings were removed to keep them from flying away, an act which also left them defenseless and mortal.

The eldest angel, Logos (the thrilling Dan Callaway), was charged with the safety of the younger ones and warned to make them strong. Over the years he has held to that duty with a myopic devotion that has made him a stern taskmaster. Believing that only a dreadful darkness lies in wait for them outside the wall, he requires daily combat drills and regular fight challenges with mechanical wings (mimicking their childhood ordeal) to keep them ever ready in case of attack.

Logos' soft spot is for his innocent sister, Exstasis (Hila Plitmann, who fights like a warrior and sings like the angel she portrays), who remembers fragments of their parents' traumatic departure and yearns to find her wings and fly again. As Exstasis gradually recalls more of what really happened that fateful night, she becomes increasingly determined to escape the grim prison that has become her home. As much as Logos is led by a deeply-embedded fear that terrible danger surrounds them and constant vigilance is key to survival, so Exstasis comes to live by faith in a better world and readily risks everything to reach it.

Six years of workshops and concert versions allowed co-creators Eric Whitacre (music, lyrics and book) and David Norona (lyrics) to hone and shape this remarkable show, balancing focus and clarity of vision with wild inventiveness and a sense of adventure. Exstasis' flashbacks are revealed in classic anime-style animation projected on the upper portion of Tom Buderwitz's inventive set, which includes multiple levels above and below the stage, and reveals smaller areas with doors that unfold like wings.

The spine-tingling, operatic score is punctuated by live Taiko drumming, a gripping techno undercurrent, and outstanding choral work by an exemplary cast that includes Kevin Odekirk as Logos' second-in-command, Ignis, Daniel Tatar as mischief-maker Fervio, Rodolfo Nieto as the slow-witted but heart-smart Gravitas, Juli Robbins as hot-headed Pieta, and Marie M. Wallace as shy Aia.

Director Michael Michetti, another willing explorer of the imagination, does a stellar job advancing Whitacre's vision, as does the rest of the superb production team's work: Steven Young's atmospheric lighting design; Soojin Lee's punkish Flashdance-meets-Apocolypse Now-inspired costumes; Martin Carrillo's eerie sound design; and Caleb Terray's exciting fight choreography. Equally excellent efforts come from Bubba Carr (choreography), Becca Coffman (hair and makeup), Chuck Olsen (props), and Richard Landon (wings and special effects).

If there is anything to quibble with here, it is only that the final resolution feels rather neat and seems to fall into place a tad too quickly. And some bits of dialogue (and important information) get overwhelmed by swelling voices and music, particularly in the all-important opening. But on the whole, Paradise Lost takes wing and soars to breathtaking heights. It is an experience not to be missed.