Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: The Woes of Middle School

Being the new kid in a new school is never easy, especially when you’re younger. Making new friends and fitting in sometimes is more of a struggle than school itself. In Gail Phaneuf’s cute tween musical The Love Note, farm girl Jessie becomes the new girl and learns the woes of middle school with the help of her imaginary friend, Airy.
The Love Note follows Jessie as she tries to fit in with the cool kids and develops a crush on Peter. Queen Bee Brittany cons Jessie into trading lunches with her daily in exchange for being part of her clique, part of the deal that is never upheld. In each of her lunches, Jessie’s mom leaves her a love note, which Brittany discards daily that the lunch lady recovers. Phaneuf’s story is absolutely catered for the younger crowd. The story is light and sweet, borrowing plot lines from numerous other new girl tales. The Love Note is virtually “Mean Girls” for middle school with the added imaginary friend and heart. For the most part, the plot works well, though there are some logistical questions only the most observant child would pick up on. The biggest one being the song where Jessie and Airy make cookies for lunch yet in the next scene the love note and Brittany and her girls reference the cookies made by Jessie’s mom. The other question the script raises is in regards to the Lunch Lady. Lunch Lady is virtually an older version of Jessie, but is telling kids to aspire to be good and you'll end up being a lunch lady the right moral? Perhaps turning her into a teacher instead would be a stronger choice. The score by Phaneuf is catchy and perfect for her young audience.
With a fun score to sing, the overstuffed ensemble did a great job tackling roles nearly half their own age. Bethany McCall has a stellar voice as Jessie, capturing the spirit of the show skillfully. Sam Harvey fits perfectly as the popular boy and object of every young girls’ affection. Katie Mebane as Brittany played up the mean girl role well, though was often overshadowed by two of her sidekicks, Jenna Perez’s Natty and Lauren DeFilippo’s Katty. James Michael Avance added a flare of fun as Airy.
Director Russell Garrett guided his young cast to discover the kid within, capturing the heart of Phaenuf’s story. Garrett’s choreography was simple, though it looked difficult to explore big movements with an enormous ensemble and a tiny stage filled with colorful cubes. The set by Josh Iacovelli is resourceful and colorful.
The Love Note is the quintessential tween musical with catchy music and a morally positive story. Though nothing new is brought to light, The Love Note is still an enjoyable kids’ musical.