It was quite an eventful evening at the Marin Theater Company opening of Justice: A New Musical. The show, with book by Lauren Gunderson, music by Bree Loudermilk and lyrics by Kait Kerrigan, premiered last year at the Arizona Theatre Company, but has undergone significant revisions since then. On top of some typical opening night “bumps in the road,” they also had to contend with two weather-induced power outages.
During an impromptu Q&A held as the crew worked to restore power, Gunderson shared that she had initially been contacted to write a one-woman show about Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She found more inspiration, however, in the differences and similarities between O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This brought about a play that follows the careers of the first three women appointed to the United States Supreme Court: O’Connor (Karen Murphy), Ginsberg (Lynda DiVito) and Sonia Sotomayor (Stephanie Prentice).
Despite the setbacks and delays, Murphy, DiVito and Prentice all delivered strong performances. Prentice’s Sotomayor is charismatic, with a strong sense of determination that makes it easy to root for her. Murphy’s O’Connor is a convincing and nuanced portrait of a woman who has worked hard for power but is questioning her decisions. DiVito’s Ginsberg comes off as less of a real person than “The Notorious RBG.” She even sings a mischievous torch song about her alter ego.
The set design by Carlos Aceves makes clever use of a single set piece as multiple locations. Unfortunately, it was too far downstage for the size of the space. Had it been further upstage, it would not have overwhelmed the actors as it did. Similarly, the costumes by Maggie Morgan worked well but for the odd fit of judicial robes on all three women.
The script, like the set and costumes, almost gets it right. It takes too much time educating and not enough time exploring the ramifications their decisions had on these women’s lives. Also, for a play ostensibly about equality, partisanship and how women function in politics, Gunderson does not even name-check controversial Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Like most of Gunderson’s plays, the show is written to simply entertain. The music is fun, the story is interesting, and the acting is strong. Just don’t go in expecting a realistic look at American politics. As the composer and lyricist shared, this is basically just Wicked in Washington.
‘Justice: A New Musical’ runs Tues–Sun through March 12 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tues–Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $25.50-$60.50. Masking required. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.
“Wicked” is a good analogy: Entertaining but nothing you walk out of the theater humming. Was Elena Kagan “name-checked?” If she was, I missed it. KBJ was blown a kiss. I am guessing there will be further adjustments to the libretto, an opportunity for personnel oversights to be remedied. But will there be any song that will be an earworm?