Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: The Reality of Hurting

This generation is the generation of social media. When something happens in the world, it explodes on cyber space allowing the World Wide Web to discuss and offer their commentary. Through social media, certain topics have taken center stage, one of which is teen suicide. In the deeply topical Generation Me, the lives of teenagers are altered and put into perspective after a friend decides to commit suicide.
Though never glorifying, teen suicide takes the spotlight in the brazen new musical Generation Me. The musical follows the death of Milo, journeying back and forth in time, watching how his friends and peers deal with his passing and the events that led up to his untimely death. With a story by Julie Soto and Ryan Warren and music by Will Finan, Generation Me is a musical for teenagers about teenagers. The weighty topics are no laughing matter though. They range from suicide to date rape to abuse. While they all may not need to be present in the same show, the way book writer Soto tackles them is tasteful. Regardless, these are extremely difficult topics to ask a young actor to tap into. It’s a difficult topic to ask any actor to tap into! But the approach that Ryan Warren takes with it allows for a discussion to be had. As far as Generation Me is as a musical, it’s pretty decent. Billed as a production for kids to perform in, the book and music is stronger than most scripts currently out there. It features an incredibly large ensemble with characters who are present with mere interjections, but the characters that do get the focus are well rounded. There are moments where the script seems to borrow elements from well known Disney and Nickelodeon shows and movies, but you forgive because these characters are “all in this together.” The music by Will Finan is lively and overall accessible and easy enough for the young ensemble to sing. Where Generation Me suffers is the length. With such a large cast, showcasing each actor is a goal, but that leads to a long script. Shrinking the cast, perhaps even combining certain characters may help reduce the fluff.
The entire ensemble wore their heart on their sleeves in this production. While the majority of the cast have room to grow as performers, acting to the extreme, there were some wonderful performances. As the comic relief, Caroline Coyle as party girl Ginny is hysterical. She works her magic owning her colorful character. Madison Judd has an exceptional voice as Harper, the girl with a dark past. Judd’s vocals may be the strongest and cleanest on stage. Emma Stone look-a-like Kennedy Slocum is divine as mean girl Addison. Cody Craven as senior bad boy Kyle Peterson was clearly the most seasoned actor on stage, bringing one of the finer performances of the show. Kayla Wood as Kaylee may have had one of the more traumatic arcs of any character, but Wood shined in her vocals, especial in the trio with Judd and Courtney Clark’s Zoe.
Ryan Warren had a strong showing as director, guiding a large group of youth actors through difficult terrain. While he was unable to prevent all of the over acting, he get out some strong performances. The one questionable moment of staging was having the ensemble face the video screens at the end, leaving their back to the audience. Additionally, the Act I finale had a massive food fight: with actual food. The impact was there but was the shock value actually necessary? The lighting by Julie Soto was a tad too presentational and a bit too much, especially in a Fringe style setting. Rather than leaving a general wash for the actors to live in, we saw a light shift as characters would cross the stage. The redeeming lighting moment came with the clear shifts between present and memory with the added purple light. Kristin Cunningham’s costumes were incredibly predictable yet practical. The grayscale set by Shane Alan Bradley was simple and effective. The closet that lived at the back of the stage was a very strong visual reminder.
For a piece that could come off as a bad after-school special, it doesn’t. But there are big flags the creators have to consider as it is bound for a larger audience. The first being the party scene. While the scene does not promote alcohol and underage drinking, it also does not condone it either. The other is Milo’s reason for his suicide. While the musical follows the time leading up to his death, the ultimate trigger for Milo’s suicide is his fight with his best friend Cody and the resulting ignored calls. This unfortunately makes Cody a villain. Generation Me is a musical for the generation. When the musical finds a future home and an even stronger cast, this piece could have an impact. This is a musical that needs to be heard.