Adelaide Fringe. Adelaide Youth Theatre. Star Theatre. 17 Mar 2017
13 The Musical was the first, and maybe only, Broadway musical with a cast and band entirely comprised of teenagers. Jason Robert Brown was commissioned to write the music and lyrics for a theatre group in Los Angeles in 2007. You may recall JRB from his concert of original tunes, Songs For A New World, in the 2003 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, or the musical itself when Adelaide Youth Theatre produced the South Australian premiere in the Adelaide Fringe of 2012.
Director Lindsay Prodea had the Herculean task of guiding two completely different casts - one of older and the other of younger teenagers for two shows each. I saw the younger cast put on a hearty and very professional show bursting with talent.
Librettists Dan Elish and Robert Horn rocket Grease into the 21st Century. While the gangs are gone, the moiety is still there, and issues of exclusion are more sensitively portrayed. Also the characters are younger and thus the piece probably more suited to the younger cast.
Evan, a Jewish kid from New York City, is plunked into a small town high school and is desperate to prove his popularity with a big Bar Mitzvah. Although initially befriending his neighbour, Patrice, he finds out she's an outcast in class and shuns her for the cool kids led by Brett. The schmuck spends the rest of the play scheming to set things right, and works with Patrice's friend, Archie, who is also on the out due to his muscular dystrophy or somewhat similar disease. Things go from bad to worse before they get better.
The score in the hands of musical director Ben Francis and his band is lively and energetic. Indeed, all things are good - Luke Bartholomew's lighting is flashy but sometimes leaves some in the shade. No costuming task was too daunting for Lisa Dandie, even when a dozen orthodox Jews or cheerleaders are called for. Joshua Maxwell managed a bunch of projections that set the scenes. All very incredibly good production values given the shoestring budget.
And into this staging vessel are poured some of Adelaide's brightest young talents under the swift and deft direction of Prodea and the relaxed and cheeky choreography of Nina Richi.
Undersized Ethan Schembri's Evan is effervescent and perky and a trier, but a schmuck nonetheless. Alana Iannace lends Patrice a nuanced voice and acting skills and I can't understand why nobody liked her. Jayden Prelc gives Archie a humorous sensibility. Kristian Latella made Evan's antagonist Brett an outwardly very lovely guy, but really, he's a bully. Lucy as played by Taylor Tran was a sly villainous skank and very watchable. Poor Kendra was not much more than an object of desire for Brett and Archie in the script but Georgia Firth lent her some dignity. Just to show that there was talent to spare, chorus girl Izzy Oppedisano was outstanding in the encore.
How all these kids and chorus channeled their hormonic energy into song and dance and nuanced performance was a real joy to watch.
Bravo to AYT!
When: 16 to 18 Mar
Where: Star Theatre