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Auteurs Assemble 

University of Richmond brings together a dream team for the musical, “Miss You Like Hell.”

click to enlarge The talent behind University of Richmond's "Miss You Like Hell" includes: Dorothy Holland, Patricia Herrera,  Marlysse Rose Simmons (Bio Ritmo, Miramar), Laura Ann Singh (Miramar),  and Kevin LaMarr Jones. The production opens this Thursday, Nov. 17 at Modlin Center.

Scott Elmquist

The talent behind University of Richmond's "Miss You Like Hell" includes: Dorothy Holland, Patricia Herrera, Marlysse Rose Simmons (Bio Ritmo, Miramar), Laura Ann Singh (Miramar), and Kevin LaMarr Jones. The production opens this Thursday, Nov. 17 at Modlin Center.

It’s easy to forget how uniquely collaborative working in theater is. It can be eye-opening even for artists who are very successful in other performing arts.

“We had a moment during the first production meeting where we were like, wow, there are 12 different people in the room helping to put this show together,” says Kevin LaMarr Jones, the choreographer for “Miss You Like Hell,” the upcoming production from University of Richmond’s Department of Theatre & Dance opening at the Modlin Center on Thursday, Nov. 17.

“We were envious,” echoes Marlysse Rose Simmons, the production’s musical director. “With so many of my projects, it’s just me. I was like, I want 12 people.”

The talent that co-directors Patricia Herrera and Dorothy Holland have pulled together for this production is not just run-of-the-mill help, either. Simmons is better known as the leader of Bio Ritmo, the internationally-renowned salsa band. Jones founded Claves Unidos, a local dance collective that celebrates African presence in the arts. Also onboard as assistant musical director is Laura Ann Singh, a vocalist and founding member of Miramar, an acclaimed bolero band.

The show bringing this murderers' row of artists together was created by Quiara Alegria Hudes, best known for writing the book to “In the Heights.” “Miss You Like Hell” tells the story of Beatriz, an undocumented immigrant who drops into her estranged 16-year old daughter’s life and coerces her into a road trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Herrera saw it as a great project for the UR campus community.

“I’m a big fan of Quiara’s work,” she says. “We’re always looking for projects that will help our students think critically and engage with issues but can still be fun. It’s also an opportunity to have different representations on stage, something we are working on not just as a department but as a whole community. ”

Holland says it made sense to co-direct the show because of Herrera’s skills in collaboration. “I appreciate the way Patricia builds community,” Holland says. “It’s something she knows so well, she doesn’t have to think about it. She lives to build a team.”

Herrera concurs, “I have a passion about community engagement and that’s why I wanted to invite some of the incredible local artists we have in Richmond into the process.”

This will be the first theatrical production Simmons has ever worked on. It will also be a first for Singh, a UR alum, who got some experience working on one student production while enrolled. “It was really fun but I don’t think I was very good at it,” she laughs.

“Watching these two [Holland and Herrera] work is really inspiring,” says Singh. “The process they go through for understanding the material, how deep they go, it’s amazing.”

The show certainly lends itself to going deep as it uses the road trip Beatriz and her daughter go on to introduce a myriad of characters representative of different aspects of America. “It's not just a mother-daughter story,” says Holland. “It’s a history of the country, we see it unfolding in the people they encounter along the way. They reveal aspects of our shared history that aren’t always spoken about.”

Singh points out the preponderance of women involved in the show. “Two women [Hudes and singer-songwriter Erin McKeown] wrote and produced this play that is centered around two women and this production has two women co-directing and two women directing the music,” she says. “It’s so rare that you see a situation where women are in all of the key roles.”

Herrera says that female-centricity has been enhanced in the UR production: “We’ve designated three members of the ensemble to represent the ‘feminine divine’ who are supporting Beatriz through her journey.”

Simmons has assembled star players, including drummer Scott Clark and bassist Rusty Farmer, to work alongside students who will fill out the production’s orchestra. The way musicians come together for a show in the last couple weeks is something new for her, she says.

“It’s a challenge for everyone to just now be working in the same room,” Simmons says. “It’s a normal challenge in theater but not one that I’m used to.”

Holland says the students in the production benefit from working with artists with experience outside the confines of theater. “To see Laura Ann teaching these students how to vocalize, or Kevin teaching them how to move, they can innately sense this is something rare,” she says. “It’s a gift, it’s a master class.”

“Miss You Like Hell” runs Nov. 17-20 at the Modlin Center for the Arts, 410 Westhampton Way. TIckets available at https://tickets.modlin.richmond.edu/events.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misspelled Claves Unidos. Style regrets the error.

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