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Freaks and geeks

Growing up is hard to do in these monologues and musicals

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2008:10:25 03:35:51

I have staged my share of musicals for kids and to actually find shows worthy of producing, I’ve had to read through myriad scripts and songs ranging from amateurishly mediocre to categorically awful. The best I can say about 13, the Musical, is that this show is … not awful. Yes, the characters are stock and the book (by Dan Elish and Robert Horn) is tiresome and formulaic, but there are some really good songs by Jason Robert Brown, and even a few funny jokes.

And like the show itself, the youthful cast of this coming-of-age saga is a mixed bag – good singers with big sounds and less talented performers whose voices can’t be heard beyond the fourth row. But unlike on TV’s “Glee,” when a bad note is hit it can’t be “sweetened” in post-production. And there are lots of bad notes. Furthermore, in the opening-day production that I saw, the exuberant company was not helped by the sound man: One of the show’s leads was not miked at all; another lead’s mic did not work; and the music track tended to overwhelm most of the cast, most of the time.

All that said, directors Tim Hanes and Sara Catherine Barnes have whipped up an engaging soufflé with high-energy choreography and some bits of fine acting. Yes, it’s hard to watch other people’s children perform for 90 minutes – what’s endearing to Mom and Dad may not ingratiate the lay theatergoer – but when you hear the entire teenage ensemble singing their hearts out in harmony, one can make the case that there is no more joyful noise under heaven. And at least they’re not texting.

A few minutes into Tod Kimbro’s goth-rock musical comedy, Suckers, a Freaky Little Musical, I realized that I’d seen this edgy, leather-clad look at the ’90s some years ago in a previous incarnation. No matter. The story and its characters didn’t hold much meaning for me the first time either, so watching it again was merely an excuse to listen once more to Kimbro’s ear-catching tunes. This time they were sung by the kind of voices that might have begun their stage careers in 13, the Musical, but then left their less-talented mates behind to enter the realm of the truly professional.

Directed by Michael Marinaccio, the troupe of Jessi Riese, Josh Roth, Erin Brenna and Corey Volence belted out Kimbro’s high-energy lyrics with savvy insouciance, backed up by the relentless passion of Kimbro himself on the keyboards and Rob Vandivier on bass. The show is merely a trifle from Kimbro’s vast musical storehouse of original songs and theatrical musings, but any time he’s on stage, I’m gonna try and grab a seat. You should too.

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