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REVIEW: REDWOOD—La Jolla Playhouse

As we all know, Idina Menzel got her start on Broadway, and the singer has now made her grand return to the stage in the new musical “Redwood,” now playing at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, which she has reportedly been working on for the past 20 years.


Menzel initially conceived the show as a bio-musical about Julia Butterfly Hill, an environmental activist famous for living in a redwood for more than two years in the late ‘90s to prevent loggers from cutting it down. Acclaimed writer and director Tina Landau brings this immersive and cinematic new work to life with lush visuals and a soaring score by Kate Diaz.


The show tells the story of Jesse (Menzel a successful businesswoman, mother and wife, who seems to have it all, but inside, her heart is broken. Finding herself at a turning point, Jesse leaves everyone and everything behind, gets in her car and drives. Thousands of miles later, she hits the ancient forests of Northern California, finding an intoxicating environment of dense greenery, fractured light and dizzying heights. In the presence of the magnificent, towering redwoods, Jesse finds strange and powerful connections, an unexpected sense of community, and a chance at healing.


Menzel had approached Landau two decades ago about collaborating on the project. The singer adds the musical’s plot includes experiences she and director Landau—who is also behind Broadway’s “The SpongeBob Musical”—have had since they first began working on the production.

“I subscribe to this feeling very often in my life of wanting to just escape,” Menzel said. “I’m more of a recluse than people think I am … I definitely grapple with that a lot in my life, just like, ‘Can I just put it all down and leave and do something different?'”


Menzel became a Broadway star when she originated the role of Maureen in “Rent.” She’s also won a Tony for her work as Elphaba in “Wicked,” and her performance of “Let It Go” from “Frozen” (she plays Elsa in the Disney animation franchise) and became an international sensation. She went on to play Adam Sandler’s wife in the indie favorite “Uncut Gems,” and most recently premiered the documentary “Idina Menzel. Which Way to the Stage?” on Disney+.


According to Menzel, her partnership with Landau challenged her to explore elements that are both new and intimidating to her. “It’s opening my vernacular and forcing me to find new colors and places in my voice that I think are just fun,” she said of the musical, “and have different emotional connections for me to the character and hopefully open up different chakras, if you will, for other people when they’re listening.”


In some aspects, “Redwood” will be an interactive experience for the audience. “The design is not really a set as much as it’s going to be making use of some really exciting, cutting-edge multimedia interactive technology that’s never been used in the American musical theater before,” Landau explained. She also revealed that it was the quarantine in the early days of the pandemic that finally gave her the time to sit down to concentrate and work on writing the show.


De’Adre Aziza - Mel (Broadway: “Passing Strange” /Tony nominee, “Women on the Verge,” “A Night with Janis Joplin”); Aja Simone Baitey (they/them) Understudy - Mel/Becca (National Tours: “Book of Mormon,” “Jesus Christ Superstar”); Giovanny Diaz de Leon (he/him), Understudy - Spencer (La Jolla Playhouse: “The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical”); Idina Menzel - Jesse/Concept/Additional Contributions (Broadway: “If/Then,” “Wicked,” “Aida,” “Rent;” Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (she/they) - Becca (Broadway: “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical”); Michael Park - Finn (Broadway: “Carousel,” “Smokey Joe’s Café” (Grammy), “Little Me,” “How to Succeed...,”); Zachary Noah Piser (he/him) - Spencer (Broadway/Off-Broadway: “Dear Evan Hansen” (Evan); Lance Arthur Smith (he/him) - Understudy: Finn


REDWOOD, NOW PLAYING AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE IN THE SHEILA AND HUGHES POTIKER THEATRE, FEBRUARY 13TH THROUGH MARCH 31ST; Conceived by Tina Landau and Idina Menzel; Directed by Tina Landau (She/Her); With Book by Tina Landau; Lyrics by Tina Landau and Kate Diaz; Composed, Orchestrated, Arranged by Kate Diaz; Vocals for “Stella” and “The Trees” by Kate Diaz; Music Supervisor - Kimberly Grigsby; Music Director/Conductor - Haley Bennett; Scenic Designer - Jason Ardizzone-West; Costume Designer - Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Designer - Scott Zielinski; Sound Designer - Jonathan Deans; Media Designer -  Hana S. Kim; Hair Designer - Geo Brian Hennings; Vertical Movement and Staging - Melecio Estrella, BANDALOOP (he/him); Stage Manager - Lora K. Powell;; Assistant Stage Manager - Topaz Cooks (she/her).

Closing out La Jolla Playhouse's exhilarating 2023-24 season, this new musical featuring one of Broadway’s greatest stars, “Redwood” will awaken your sense of adventure and lift you higher than the treetops. This show, however, is selling out fast! Check for tickets at:



Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report



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