A Uniquely American Roadtrip Musical, "Miss You Like Hell" Crosses the Country in Search of a Connection

News Image Mother and daughter embark on an unforgettable journey in a new musical by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Erin McKeown, opening Feb. 24 at Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance

By: Clarissa Shirley '22  Tuesday, February 22, 2022 11:02 AM

News Image
Actors Marina Rinkunas '25 and Bridget Wiggan '23 look through the windshield of a battered truck on the set of "Miss You Like Hell".

Allentown, Pa. (Feb. 1, 2022) — The Theatre & Dance Department at Muhlenberg College will mount a full-scale musical this February for the first time since 2019. The production, “Miss You Like Hell,” features the deeply personal story of a mother and daughter reconnecting on a cross-country road trip. First produced in 2016, it takes an intimate look at the immigrant experience through the eyes of one Mexican-American family.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes (“In the Heights,” “Water by the Spoonful”) and acclaimed singer/songwriter Erin McKeown, “Miss You Like Hell” is an intense, rambunctious new musical that brings audiences on a desperate, joyous, uniquely American road trip.

“I think part of what theatre does really well is to take these big concepts, where it can be easy to forget the humanity — such as immigration policy — and make them personal,” says Muhlenberg faculty member Jamie McKittrick, who directs the production. “These characters are fully realized humans who are directly affected by these policies.”

The show boasts a spirited musical score featuring pop ballads, folk travel songs, and R&B. Musical director Vincent Trovado will conduct a live seven-piece band, visible on stage throughout. It runs Feb. 24-27 in the college’s Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre. Tickets are available online.

Whip-smart and deeply imaginative, 16-year-old Olivia hasn't seen her mother, Beatriz, for years. Now on the brink of deportation and hoping to make up for lost time, Beatriz talks her daughter into coming along on an expedition with a deadline. Full of the eclectic characters they meet along the way, “Miss You Like Hell” shows us how far we can travel with the help of courageous neighbors and kind strangers.

“What I love about this piece is the way that these two people, this mother and daughter, find their way back to each other,” McKittrick says. “It’s a hard journey, but it feels inevitable.”

McKittrick says she identifies with Olivia’s efforts to connect to her complex cultural heritage. “I’m half Mexican and half white,” she says. “So I deeply understand what it is to have a foot in two different cultures. Olivia feels a deep connection to her Mexican roots, but coming through cultural experiences — the food, music, but not necessarily the language. Which can eventually lead to worries around, ‘Am I Mexican enough?’”

The story takes place in 2014, when immigration reform initiatives meant a harder road for would-be asylum seekers.

“People were coming to the U.S. for sanctuary and then suddenly it was no longer a safe space,” says Bridget Wiggan ’23, who plays Beatriz. “She wants to be a mother to her daughter, but she technically has no rights in this country as an undocumented immigrant.”

Choreographer Samuel Antonio Reyes, adjunct professor of hip-hop at Muhlenberg, says he was inspired by Beatriz’s ancestry when creating the movement.

“Beatriz reminds Olivia that she has native blood, she is a part of the Yaqui tribe, a descendant of the Mascogo people. They were here before anybody else was,” Reyes says. “So I was looking at the tribe, and I was looking at folk movement. When you’re in need of healing you can always call upon your ancestors to bring you back.”

Zaire Carter ’22 is a member of the ensemble and plays Beatriz’s lawyer. He says that the choreography can illustrate a variety of emotional moments — whether it be a tumultuous scene or a celebration.

“Sammy prioritizes the story first,” Carter says. “We’re not only showing what’s happening; we are feeling it deeply. The ensemble is really there to support Olivia and Beatriz on their journey — sometimes that even means literally pushing their truck along the road” — in this case, an actual vintage pickup truck, a 1978 Dodge D150 Power Wagon, reinforced for dance numbers.

“Miss You Like Hell” is the first collaboration between Hudes and McKeown — and McKeown’s first musical theater composition credit. Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes is best known for her collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the 2008 Tony Award-winning “In the Heights,” for which she wrote the book. She also received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for her play “Water by the Spoonful.”

Singer/songwriter Erin McKeown is well known on the indie folk circuit for her eclectic songwriting and her distinctive guitar style. She has released nine studio albums, beginning in 1999, and plays about 200 shows a year, and her music encompasses pop, swing, rock, folk, and electronic music, among other genres.

The original production of “Miss You Like Hell” opened in 2016 at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, starring Daphne Rubin-Vega. The show opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in 2018. The New York Times called the play “powerful and complex. A fresh take on the American road story, filled with people and ideas we rarely get to see onstage.”

Muhlenberg costume designer Celeste Samson ’22 has drawn inspiration from two quite different sources: 2014 fashion trends and tarot cards. They’ve assigned a different card to each character. For example, Beatriz corresponds with the Magician card — a card associated with manifestation and creativity.

“Beatriz has an incredible knack for being able to communicate and empathize with anyone, no matter their background,” Samson says.

And that, says Reyes, is the most important thing that working on “Miss You Like Hell” has affirmed for him: the value of empathy and community.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Reyes says. “It doesn't matter what race you are, doesn't matter what ethnicity, or what language you speak. This journey they go on, is them both stepping out of their comfort zones of being lonely travelers, to finally rely on each other.”

“Miss You Like Hell” plays Feb. 24-27 at the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $20, youth tickets and LVAIC community member tickets are $8. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/seeashow.

The performance on Sunday, Feb. 27, will include Open Caption for patrons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and Audio Description for patrons who are blind or visually impaired. For accessible-section tickets, contact the box office directly at 484-664-3333 or [email protected].

Composer Erin McKeown will be on campus Saturday, Feb. 26. At 2 p.m., she will present a demonstration and conversation titled "How to Build a Lioness," tracing the evolution of  the song "Lioness" from "Miss You Like Hell" from conception through composition to staging and orchestration. The public is welcome to attend. To sign up, visit muhlenberg.edu/seeashow. Following the 8 p.m. performance, McKeown will participate in a question-and-answer session with the cast, creative team, and audience.

About the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theatre program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theatre and dance.

About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 23 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.