By Sandi Durell
The angst and depth of emotions of teenagers about to make life choices are spilled out in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s new musical (book, music and lyrics) currently at 59e59 Street Theaters. Everything moves quickly as thoughts and actions morph, mix and flow almost simultaneously.
Hold this thought throughout:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
A very unsure, insecure, confused and serious Samantha Brown (sweetly, yet staunchly played by Krystina Alabado (American Psycho & American Idiot), with a soaring voice that rivals some of the best, explains how she is the orbit around her best friend Kelly, a supernova cool cat (a searing and powerful Emma Hunton, also with an amazing voice – Next to Normal & Spring Awakening) who is more than willing to orchestrate Sam’s life and show her the path to freedom as they ready to graduate high school. With car keys in hand, Sam is being urged to take the wheel and to the road to find herself, to stop planning and be in the here and now.
Kelly will be going off to a State school while Sam, who is intelligent and likes to think things through before jumping, is being persuaded by her statistician-pragmatic mother Beverly (the wonderful Leah Hocking) to enroll in an Ivy League school. But Kelly won’t take no for an answer using her larger than life persuasive persona to make her points – “don’t talk about it, feel it, love it,” likening freedom to driving straight ahead into the dark. And, of course, they sing about it big time – – “The Girl Who Drove Away,” “Freedom” and “The Mad Ones.”
Leah Hocking’s role is surely a highlight when sanity prevails as she sings and talks about statistics, having instilled in her little girl all the necessary meaningful numbers to get her through life – “My Mom Is A Statistician.” But her explanation of males vs. females taking to the road alone is outstanding in the strong and telling “Miles To Go” – – how far women still need to advance to be in the same league with men.
And there’s Adam, stable, unassuming and quietly in love with Sam. The role of Adam is being played by Jay Armstrong Johnson (On The Town, Hands on a Hard Body) thru December 3, while Ben Fankhauser is out with a medical issue. Johnson is a standout as Adam, dynamically and vocally, as he plays his cards close to the vest, keeping his heart in tow.
Things turn dire when a bright light flashes giving rise to the tragic demise of Kelly in a car accident. From this point, Kelly is a frequent visitor in Sam’s mind (and on stage) still giving her life directions, Sam more unsure than ever as her relationship with Adam grows and her mother’s influence takes hold. Adam’s just a sweet small town guy who plans on taking over his father’s tire shop. But as he hears more of Sam’s desperation and uncertainty of which path she should follow, he’s right at her side to get in that car on a road to nowhere/everywhere. He also sublimates his sexual appetite for Tacos until Sam takes the wheel and they explore together – “Run Away With Me.”
Directed by Stephen Brackett (Buyer & Cellar), if you’re of a certain age you’ll most likely relate to the woes of youth as presented here in The Mad Ones. Kerrigan and Lowdermilk surely have a way with words and lyrics and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments.
The contemporary backdrop scenery (Adam Rigg) allows for the lighting (David Lander) to take over front and center.
Paul Staroba on piano is always at the top of his game with Jeremy Robin Lyons conducting, along with Peter Cho on guitar, Lynette Warble on harp and Sita Chary/Kiku Enomoto sharing violin.
The downside . . . the show attempts too strenuously to get its points across but it doesn’t always work as words crisscross and lines become blurred. And there’s the high belting screaming of Alabado and Hunton that may ring in your ears for some time after you’ve left the theater. Perhaps they need to keep in mind this is not a Broadway house!
Photos: Richard Termine
The Mad Ones at 59e59 Theaters plays 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission) through December 17 in Theater A. www.prospecttheater.org