In this series of blog posts, get to know the music of our upcoming production of Miss You Like Hell, a musical written by playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes (co-creator of In the Heights) and singer-songwriter Erin McKeown. Each post will cover three to four songs with insight from Chris Youstra, OTC’s Associate Artistic Director of Music Theatre. This post covers “Dirtiest Deed,” “Dance with Me,” “Miss You Like Hell,” and “Epilogue.” You can listen to the recording of the original cast album on most streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Streaming. This is the final part of our four-part series; check out part one, part two, and part three first.
As Olivia, Beatriz, and Manuel near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Olivia swerves to avoid hitting a turtle on the road. She hits it anyway and crashes into a tree, totaling Beatriz’s truck. No one is hurt, except for the turtle who is barely still alive. Looking at the animal, Manuel is reminded of his late wife’s struggle with cancer. “Ese animal?” he says, “Same fight as Ramona.” He tells a story of a party she wanted to throw near the end of her life: “She said, I want a charango player and a disco ball and ponies. I said that’s a very expensive funeral. She said, idiota, I want them today, while I live. Entonces, I got them and she held on six more months.” In this song, Manuel sings about his wife’s fight against cancer and Olivia reflects on her brush with suicide.
Chris Youstra: “Dirtiest Deed” is the antithesis of “Now I’m Here.” Each character is exploring being brought to the brink of death. It’s a four-on-the-floor rock groove, but it’s got this insistent pulse which is almost like death calling.
“Dirtiest Deed” expresses the difficulty and ugliness of life but insists on the value of fighting to keep it. “Life fights for life” is the refrain and Manuel and Beatriz assure Olivia “We’ll wait with you / Celebrate with you / As long as you’re fighting let’s have a blast. / As long as you fight, if it takes all night / We’ll last.”
“Dance with Me”
The travelers finally make it to Yellowstone, but Olivia is still upset from a fight she and Beatriz had the night before. Olivia initially remains behind in the car while the others tour the park, only getting out to insist that Manuel and Beatriz hurry up so they can catch their bus to Los Angeles. Beatriz makes her wait, pulls out a speaker, and dances barefoot in Hayden Valley. Manuel and junior park ranger Pearl join her, coaxing Olivia into joining their carefree moment.
CY: “One of the first things Beatriz asks Olivia is ‘What do you shake your ass to?’ Throughout the road trip, Beatriz is trying to connect with Olivia, and here she does it through dance. The music itself as a cajun and zydeco feel with country-western laid over the top of it.”
In “Dance with Me” Olivia finally drops her barriers and lets go of her resentment to have a moment of deep connection with her mother. Near the end of the song, Beatriz pulls Olivia into a slow dance and the stage direction describes the moment as a “half embrace, half grapple. A laying on of hands. A purge, a reclamation.” The final moments of the song are the repeated phrase “You are the bread, and I am the hunger / Fill me up for one more day.”
“Miss You Like Hell”
At the beginning of “Miss You Like Hell,” Olivia testifies on behalf of Beatriz. Beatriz is applying for a Non-LPR (Legal Permanent Resident) Cancellation of Removal, which would allow her to stay in the United States. Olivia’s testimony could convince the judge that Beatriz needs to stay in the country to be with her daughter. Oliva begins by telling memories of her mother, some of which are inspired by stories written in the comments of Olivia’s blog, “Calling All Castaways.” Others are her genuine memories, some of which they just made on their cross-country road trip. At the end of her testimony, Olivia determines, “I’d rather be by her imperfect side / than be alone.”
CY: “In music theatre, there are songs that are extractable because they don’t have much to do with the plot. ‘My Bell’s Been Rung’ is an example. If you took the song out of the show, the plot would be the same contextually. It wouldn’t be spiritually the same, but you could still understand what's going on.
“Then there are songs that interlock with the scene. Rodgers and Hammerstein created these moments, such as ‘If I Loved You’ in Carousel. These songs are almost always simple but are rich in meaning. Spring Awakening, for instance, has several of these moments and has a similar orchestration as Miss You Like Hell: a rock band and a few strings. I don’t mean ‘simple’ in a derogatory way, just the opposite of music like Sondheim, which has meter changes, dissonant harmonies, and chromatic development. ‘Miss You Like Hell’ is a simple pop-rock song with an acoustic flavor to it. It doesn’t start with percussion groove. It doesn’t start with a guitar. It’s simple piano chords with the strings giving life to it. In the courtroom, it becomes an extraordinarily powerful moment.”
As Olivia finishes her testimony, the judge rules to deport Beatriz. Beatriz tries to reason with the judge, but an ICE agent removes her. Olivia sings over all of this. She has finally made a connection with her mother, only to have her taken away. She repeats the line “I’m gonna miss you like hell” over and over again.
“Epilogue” takes place in Friendship Park, where a 14-foot-high, wire mesh fence separates Tijuana and San Diego. Despite the wall, Friendship Park is a place for reunions. Beatriz and Olivia meet again on either side of the wall, touching fingertips through the holes in the fence.
CY: “It’s a hopeful ending, showing how people can connect through walls. It’s uplifting and expresses the hope that they can continue to find ways to connect.”
The last line of Miss You Like Hell repeats a phrase from “Dance with Me,” reinforcing Beatriz and Olivia’s connection despite the physical border that stands between them: “You are the bread and I am the hunger.”