by Carole Di Tosti . . .
The hope of every parent is to have a brilliant child who will be a success. However, “brilliance” cannot and should not be defined within narrow parameters. Society and culture often miss the best and brightest. Expecting all individuals to follow social folkways, strictures and learning models can be disastrous. This is just one of the themes of Brilliant, a new musical currently being presented as a part of Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. The production, directed by Misti Wills, whose book/music/lyrics are by Dani Tapper, who also produced is currently running at Theatre Row.
Like every parent who looks forward to parenthood, Sarah (Kimberly Suskind) and Jake (Courtney Dease) try for a second child with high expectations (“Me and the Stick”). Since they already have daughter Kat (Emmalee Kidwell), Jake imagines what it would be like to have a son (“If I Had a Son”). We receive the impression that Sarah will be happy to have either a boy or girl as she gently chides Jake that the baby may be another girl.
These songs at the top of the presentation provide the great conflict and contrast that follows in the rest of the musical. The couple do have a son, Adam, (Asher Edgecliffe-Johnson and Hayden Bercy plays the older Adam) so Jake’s wish is granted. However, as with many expectations, these, blow up. Ironically, Jake doesn’t realize the gift that Adam is; he wants Adam to be like him, and Sarah expects him to be “like other boys” his age. Adam, like everyone else, is unique. Eventually, when he isn’t able to express himself, his frustration turns to anger.
Adam proceeds to elementary school, seemingly without a hitch until problems manifest. Though he is brilliant and knows all the answers to questions the teacher asks, he’s unable to articulate the answers, reasonably or comfortably. (“Hades”)
Clearly the classroom in the school where Adam has been placed may not allow his abilities and talents to excel or shine. Adam knows this. His frustration levels increase, but without the language and explanation of what is happening, neither he nor his parents can stop the collision course that will follow.
Without the right type of help, Adam will not only be lost, but he also will act out violently and emotionally. Locked inside himself, the school and the situations it prompts back him into an irrevocable corner where he will never be able to redeem himself and show who he is and what he is capable of.
In the following musical numbers, we see that the situation worsens without the family recognizing that what Adam is experiencing tortures him. As he tries to find ways to cope, his behavior becomes “unreasonable.” Finally, when he lashes out against his beloved sister and his father, Sarah who did put interventions in place which prove ineffective, forces herself to do what she and Jake never dreamed they would be doing at the top of the musical.
Brilliant uncovers the difficulties, trials and tribulations that families experience when their son or daughter is “on the spectrum” with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is as varied and unique as the children who have been diagnosed with it. The musical reveals what happens when a child is HFASD, an individual who is high functioning and can handle basic life skills without support. However, the more brilliant the child, the more HFASD is masked which is Adam’s situation. Thus, when his anger and frustration at attempting to “fit” in and “be normal” is pushed to the limit, he explodes. The irony is that he is acting reasonably for his incredible situation of emotional duress. But he is incapable of expressing this and his parents and teachers only see the outward manifested behavior, not the inner hell.
The subject is a serious one considering there are more children who are identified each year as “on the spectrum.” Thankfully, there are interventions, but the tragedy occurs when the educational system doesn’t allow for widening the parameters of success and intelligence because it must satisfy its agenda which is not always student centered. Fortunately, this family has the means to help Adam. However, the question left unanswered is what happens to families who lack the means, want desperately to help but can’t afford it? And what happens to the hope for such children and families?
Tapper’s work shows that there is hope. Not all is lost; but what is necessary is that every parent receive information and education about “The Spectrum.”
Brilliant is a musical worthy of the time and effort Dani Tapper took to create it. The production values, acting, singing, music, musicians, creative team and ensemble work are finely launched as a part of the Broadway Bound Festival. Kudos to the actors; these include Hayden Bercy, Maria Panvini and Morgan Scott who work seamlessly as supporting players.
As the production becomes streamlined with additional revisions, it is standout that can help entertain and inform parents about children like Adam who are brilliant. They look to externalize their identities so they may succeed in any setting, not just ones set up to thwart them and throw obstacles in their way. It’s a given that they are unsung heroes. Brilliant’s creatives masterfully underscore this point. For tickets and times go to this website. https://brilliantthemusical.com/