'Trevor: The Musical' review — too much filler slows an 'earnest and well-acted' musical
How do you turn a quirky 17-minute flick about a 13-year-old grappling with his sexuality and thoughts of self-harm into an old-school two-act musical? Trevor, an earnest and well-acted but only sometimes satisfying production at Stage 42, provides an answer.
Based on a 1994 Oscar-winning short film that spawned The Trevor Project, a 24/7 LGBTQ crisis intervention and suicide prevention group, Trevor arrives off Broadway with that storied past — and evergreen urgency. Bullying, intolerance, and self-acceptance are so not 27 years ago. They still sting with resonance in 2021.
On stage, the show traces the movie plot set in 1981 in and around a junior high school. Trevor (a confident Holden William Hagelberger) has an obsession with Diana Ross (Yasmeen Sulieman) rivaled only by his burgeoning boy-crush on classmate Pinky (Sammy Dell), the hunky school jock. Trevor hasn't totally wrapped his head around his same-sex attraction. He shares his Pinky passion only with his trusty personal diary.
If you've ever seen Afterschool Special (or Mean Girls, or Dear Evan Hansen), it's only a matter of time before Trevor's private communications fall into the wrong hands and hurl him into a world of hurt.
Between its off-kilter tone, brief running time, and lack of quick-fix solutions, the movie deftly balanced the broad shifts from silly to life-and-death serious. It also trusted the audience to fill in the blanks and recall their own experiences as Trevor interacts with classmates and his parents and other clueless adults. Who hasn't felt like an alien at some point?
Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis (music), along with director Marc Bruni (Beautiful), are less successful at finding an equilibrium and letting the story breathe. Overstatement and dollar store cliches nag throughout the story, which has been expanded but not deepened. Trevor's humiliation has transformed into a teen conspiracy. Flashy production numbers choreographed by Josh Prince are sharp and fun but also feel like padding.
Occasionally, Collins serves up a fresh zinger. Case in point: A school creep sneers at Ross's music, saying, "The album is called Diana?" Trevor, as only a discerning, true-blue fan could, responds, "No. It's called diana. With a lowercase 'd.'" If only the rest of the story was so clever and unexpected.
Original songs by Collins and Wick, the team behind the transgender-themed musical Southern Comfort, are mostly pleasant place-holders. "One of These Days" and "Can't Wait," two numbers filled with yearning, are catchy standouts. They hold their own with Diana Ross songs threaded throughout the show, including "Upside Down," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Endless Love," a song Trevor requests for his funeral, and, of course, "I'm Coming Out."
The show's saving grace is Trevor himself, a lovable and sympathetic survivor — an "everyoutlier" you root for no matter what. That includes from his daydreams about Diana to an awkward makeout session and doomed talent show, from an unsettling moment when he tries to shock away his inner stirrings for Pinky to a hospital room where he meets an understanding candy striper (Aaron Alcaraz) who's apparently walked a mile or two in his Capezios.
During the show's two hours and change, Donyale Werle's versatile set glides from high school hallways and gym to Trevor's bedroom, Mara Blumenfeld's casual shirts and plaid jumpers feel right, while Peter Kaczorowski's lighting lends gleam and gloom as needed.
Trevor begins with Diana Ross inquisitively purring "Do you know where you're going to?" In the end, Trevor may not know exactly where he's headed, but he realizes that that's okay. That's something to sing about.
Trevor: The Musical is running at Stage 42 through April 17.
Photo credit: Holden William Hagelberger and the company of Trevor. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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