This interview first appeared on Playbill.com on July 17, 2018
How Raúl Esparza Wound Up Leading the Cast of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves Onstage
It may have taken 30 years and some star power, but Woolf’s famed novel hits the stage as a musical.
Thirty years ago, writer Lisa Peterson teamed up with composer-lyricist David Bucknam to adapt one of Peterson’s favorite novels: Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. “The language is gorgeous and probably one of the most fantastic descriptions of the experience of life that I’ve ever read,” Peterson gushes. (She’s not the only one who feels that way; in a 2015 poll by the BBC the novel was voted the 16th greatest British novel ever written.)
The Waves follows the lives of six friends as they grow up together, lose sight of each other, and find their way back to their childhood friendships. “The novel starts with first experiences—literally days-old experiences—of these six characters, but it follows them up into their middle age,” which is the focus of this adaptation, which is this year’s solo Mainstage musical playing Vassar College & New York Film and Stage’s Powerhouse Theatre and begins July 19.
Coincidentally, the process of writing The Waves mirrors its story: Peterson and Bucknam bonded over their love for this book and setting it to music, but then Bucknam passed away. Peterson shelved the project, but harbored a desire for people to hear Bucknam’s score. “There’s no recording of it, so we began this process thinking we were just preserving something,” she says. Recently, she found a way to come back to it and, through her collaborators, Bucknam’s creative sensibility.
She brought on Adam Gwon, a composer-lyricist and former student of Bucknam’s at NYU, to write additional music and lyrics. “He was the first person who told me that I should be a composer, that that was where my voice lived,” says Gwon. Then she recruited Tony nominee Raúl Esparza, another student of Bucknam’s as a creative consultant and one of the six friends. (He’s joined by all-star castmates Ken Barnett, Eleasha Gamble, Douglas Lyons, Tony winner Alice Ripley, and Tony nominee Lauren Worsham.)
“He reminds me a lot of David,” says Peterson of Esparza. “He has a similar kind of fast mind, but he’s injecting—as Adam is—a new perspective into it for me.”
But some elements remain the same, specifically Woolf’s voice in the piece. Because Woolf’s prose captured Peterson in the first place, she prioritized the preservation of the original words wherever she could.
“People will hear her language spoken and sung,” says Peterson, who also directs the project.
“Each of the six characters capture one part of Virginia Woolf’s personality,” says Gwon, “and they’re six very different friends, but when you look at them together, somehow they capture something about the human experience because they all go through these iconic, spiritual journeys.”
American Theatre Wing have today published a video entitled Working in Theatre: Vocal Coach, which features footage of Raúl working with esteemed vocal coach, Joan Lader.
She can be seen advising Raúl on how to breathe and how to feel the movements these breaths cause. There is also a snippet of him singing.
You can watch Raúl's section of the video below:
Raúl will join a host of theatre favorites in stage in Poughkeepsie, New York, as part of Vassar and New York Stage and Film’s 34th Powerhouse Season.
In addition to Raúl those newly added to the roster include Tony winner Alice Ripley, Tony nominee Deneé Benton, recent Dear Evan Hansen star Noah Galvin, and Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita.
Raúl will star in and serve as creative consultant for the mainstage presentation of The Waves, adapted from the Virginia Woolf novel. The synopsis reads as follows:
Six childhood friends and their shifting relationships come vibrantly to life in this captivating chamber musical inspired by Virginia Woolf’s celebrated novel. Over the course of one day - or is it a lifetime? - The Waves illuminates the interior yearnings, ambitions, and defeats of these extraordinary individuals with stirring choral music and Woolf’s signature text.
Performances will run July 19–29, with post-show discussions on Jul 24 & 28.
Could a return to SVU be on the cards for Raúl? Well, lead actress, Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson)seems to suggest that it is.
Raúl's character, ADA Rafael Barba, was written out of the series mid way through series 19 after he helped to end the life of a severely disabled and brain damaged baby. He was put on trial but found not guilty but decided to resign his job, stating he had 'to move on'.
But in an interview conducted by TV Insider this week - while she and creator Dick Wolf were at the Paley Centre - Mariska was asked if we would see Barba back on the show. Her answer. "Yes, I can promise you that'.
Needless to say this news makes us very happy! We hope Mariska knows that fans are going to hold her to her promise!
Raúl has been in London this week and last night he accompanied his godson, Iain Armitage to the closing night of Chess at the London Coliseum.
Raul, who played Freddie in Chess at the Kennedy Center back in February was photographed backstage with star Cedric Neal and legendary lyricist, Sir Tim Rice.
On Tuesday April 24, Raúl attended the opening night of Travesties at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway and the following press photos of the event have been released:
Tumblr user, barbaxcarisi, was lucky enough to attend the red carpet and grabbed the following photos which they have graciously shared with us.
Travesties, penned by Tom Stoppard, centres on the figure of Henry Carr, an elderly man who reminisces about Zürich in 1917 during the First World War, and his interactions with James Joyce when he was writing Ulysses.
Almost a month after Raúl left his role as ADA Rafael Barba on NBC's Law and Order SVU, it has been announced that he will be returning to the network with a lead role in the drama pilot, Suspicion, from The Path creator Jessica Goldberg, Universal TV and Keshet Studios.
Also starring, Derek Luke, Suspicion (based on the book by Joseph Finder) is described as a Hitchcockian thriller about how far one man will go to save the people he loves. After Danny Goodman (Luke) accepts a handshake loan from his new friend and millionaire neighbor, Tom Canter (Esparza), he gets a visit from the FBI and learns that the decision is one he will regret for the rest of his life. Coerced to work as an informant for the FBI to earn back his freedom, Danny is forced to infiltrate a world of violence and corruption while trying to protect his family.
Esparza’s Tom Carter is the man everyone looks up to. Coming from a humble beginning, he bonds instantly with Danny as the two realize their similar histories.
Goldberg executive produces Suspicion with Keshet’s Rachel Kaplan, Peter Traugott, Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman and Finder. The studio is Universal TV, where Goldberg is under an overall deal.
The Kennedy Center, which staged last month's limited run of Chess starring Raúl, have made available a short montage of clips from the show.
This complex rock opera has been seen around the world. The pawns in this drama form a love triangle: the loutish American chess star, the earnest Russian champion, and the assistant who is torn between them. From Bangkok to Budapest, the players, lovers, politicians, and spies are manipulated to the pulse of a monumental rock score. Music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson; lyrics by Tim Rice.
Directed by Tony Award® winner Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening) with a new book by Emmy® and Golden Globe Award®–winning writer Danny Strong (Empire, The Butler, Game Change), Chess stars Raúl Esparza (Company, the Kennedy Center’s Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along) as American chess champion Freddie; Ramin Karimloo (Anastasia) as rival Russian chess star Anatoly Sergievsky; Tony Award® winner Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I, Here Lies Love) as Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana; and Tony Award® winner Karen Olivo (West Side Story, In the Heights) as Florence, a remarkable Hungarian refugee who becomes the center of their emotional triangle. Joining them are Bradley Dean (Dear Evan Hansen) as Ivan Molokov, Sean Allan Krill (Honeymoon in Vegas) as Walter de Courcey, and Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) as the Arbiter.
The show was part of Broadway Center Stage and ran from Feb 14 to 18, 2018
The video, which you can watch below, features clips of Raúl performing The Deal (No Deal), and One Night in Bangkok.
Several media outlets have now published their reviews of Chess at the Kennedy Center and, unsurprisingly, Raul gets high praise.
"Raúl Esparza, is back in musical-theatre-land and the gods rejoice. He brings a layered sensitivity to the tempestuous Trumper... “Pity the Child #3” is a heartbreaking and captivating portrait of a man on the brink. His rock tenor is unparalleled."
Esparza, scaling up into the peak of his register, rocks out blazingly...
Esparza [is] passionately driven in [his] approach to the character, delivering raw, unadulterated emotional expression in [his] various solos. [He] annihilates “Pity The Child #3”, his featured solo in the third act, where the world unwinds from within his soul.
Raul Esparza was born to play the brash, maverick of an American chess grandmaster Freddie Trumper. [He] conveys Freddie’s devil-may-care, f***-the-Russians attitude with ease; his supple rock-tenor singing style is also the prime vehicle for songs such as “Pity the Child” (which is now woven throughout his arc) and the sexy production number “One Night in Bangkok.
There are however a couple of issues that seem to be recurring. One is the balance of sound between the orchestra and performers – the higher tenor notes are sometimes drowned out by the instruments. This may just be a product of where and how the concert has been staged. We’re sure, if it transfers to Broadway, this will be an issue that is easy to iron out.
The other issue is with the story. This is a problem that has afflicted Chess since it’s very inception. The score is phenomenal, the casts have been amazing, but the story – a mixture of chess and politics set during the cold war - is viewed as boring by some and convoluted and complicated by others.
The new book by Danny Strong has addressed some of this. The expanded role of the Arbiter as a narrator, adding exposition does help to keep track of what is going on and explain some of the complexities. And sprinkled throughout are some sharp one-liners that have the audience laughing away.
Given that it hasn’t had been staged on Broadway in 30 years and the stellar cast who are signed on, it seems likely that Chess may have a Broadway transfer in it’s future. Should the cast wish to/are able to stay on that is - Ruthie Ann Miles is currently 6 months pregnant and others in the company may have commitments that can’t be re-arranged.
Whatever happens, we have our fingers crossed that Raul will find his way back onto the stage on Broadway somehow - a place he clearly adores and where he feels at home.
Did you see the show? Let us know what you thought in the comments.
In honor of Raúl leaving SVU, NBC have released a throwback deleted scene from season 18.
The long-awaited scene was originally supposed to air in the episode, 'Genes' (S18E13) but had to be deleted when the episodes were reshuffled as it shows Benson bringing Barba candy to celebrate his return from suspension - a suspension which hadn't yet occurred in the reshuffled timeline.
You can see more videos of Raúl in SVU our dedicated SVU Video Archive
Here you'll find all the up-to-date news about Raúl and his projects.