Diversity is so trendy nowadays that virtually every stage show, film or television program you see sports a rainbow cast, comprising actors of myriad skin colors, ethnicities, genders, shapes, sizes and disabilities.
Yet in “Other World,” a brand new action-adventure musical premiering this month at Bucks County Playhouse, the diverse cast is not only the most widely inclusive group of performers I’ve ever seen in a single production, but it’s also dramatically honest.
In this instance, the cast’s amazing inclusivity is necessary for the show’s authentic exploration of its video-game-themed storyline, in which ultimate gamer Sri and his friend Lorraine are magically transported into a video game called “Other World.”
“The gaming community is exceptionally diverse. With the adaptive technologies they have now, even people without hands can be gamers,” director Adrienne Campbell-Holt said after the show’s recent New York City press preview.
Mirroring that diversity, the cast of “Other World” includes actors of various skin tones, ages and gender identifications, as well as a Little Person, a performer with cerebral palsy, and one with a prosthetic leg. The show’s creative team of writers, designers and musical artists – all of whom have Broadway or Off-Broadway credentials – includes a person on the autism spectrum, a representation of our current cultural climate’s relatively new commitment to neuro-diversity.
Yet Other World is not just “checking all the diversity boxes” for trendiness purposes. In addition to reflecting the gamer population, the musical’s display of human diversity also embodies one of its main dramatic themes. As the plot gets underway, it quickly becomes clear to the characters that in order to survive in the fantastical “Other World” they must all work together, and must all be allowed to have a voice, expressing their different capabilities in creative, individualized fashions.
Written by Hunter Bell, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee, the show was introduced at the press preview by BCP’s executive producer Robyn Goodman as “the largest and most technically complicated musical” they’ve ever done at the Playhouse. Along with its 21-member cast, it incorporates a video wall and giant puppets.
According to Goodman, the show’s technical requirements led them to “enhance the capabilities of their theater.” And not only were the engaging short scene, tender ballad, and two lively production numbers we were privileged to preview quite entertaining, but if the shiny, colorful array of scenic and costume renderings exhibited on the studio wall was any indication, the production promises to be visually ravishing.
Even if you’re like me, and have no interest whatsoever in video games and find the whole gaming culture alien, chances are you may still enjoy this musical. According to Bell, the leading character, Lorraine, was conceived as a window into the show for non-gamers.
Even though it celebrates gaming culture, Bell explained, the musical is grounded in “the emotional bedrock of humor, heart and love,” which propels all good shows.” So yes, true to its message, it seems “Other World,” does indeed open its arms to include everyone.
Performances begin March 13 and run through April 11, with an official opening night on March 28.
For tickets and information, visit the Bucks County Playhouse online.