NY Review: 'Up to You'

at Tada! Youth Theater

Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell

May 01, 2012


Photo by Kaila Mackenzie
“Up to You,” an hourlong original high school musical that takes a stand against bullying, is a great advertisement for Tada! Youth Theater. Founded in 1984, Tada! offers classes in acting and “musical theater skills” and for those who pass an audition free membership in its Resident Youth Ensemble. The 32 performers in “Up to You,” who are mostly members of this ensemble, are as young as 8 and no older than 18 (their ages are listed in the program), yet they are not just adorable; under Janine Nina Trevens’ direction they also execute their roles with impressive professionalism. This is especially true in the musical numbers, tuneful pop songs composed by the aptly named Eric Rockwell, with lyrics by Joanne Bogart, choreographed well by Joanna Greer.

Less effective is Rockwell’s book, which makes the odd choice of setting the story in 1977, reportedly based loosely on the author’s own experiences but taking place long before any of the performers (and much of the intended audience) were born. It puts front and center a pedestrian plot involving an election for student council and preparations for the homecoming dance. Eric (Alec Cohen) narrates his experience at Hamilton High School, where the school colors are gold and blue and the football team is called the Pirates. He is running for student-council treasurer, while his friend Wendy (Alex Gettlin) runs for president against Vanessa (Gabby Gross), a snotty cheerleader. Vanessa wins, spends too much of the school’s money, and blames it on the new treasurer, Eric, even though he voted against the expenditures. “West Side Story” this is not.

There is plenty in “Up To You” about bullying: Football players take a younger kid’s books, and at one point Vanessa orders the team to dunk Eric’s head in the toilet, a tradition at the school known as a “Hamilton hairdo.” Wendy even campaigns on a platform to end bullying in the school. But there is so much else stuffed into the hour—plots, subplots, corny jokes, cutesy business (dressing the younger kids in trench coats and sunglasses like spies)—that it’s easy to lose sight of what the show is supposed to be about. Perhaps this is deliberate, a way of emphasizing that bullying is part of the fabric of everyday school life. Perhaps, too, the scene in which Eric comes out as gay to Wendy—“The rumors; they’re true”—is deliberately elliptical, so younger members of the audience will miss it. But to an adult theatergoer, the bullying and fear of bullying is insufficiently dramatized.

Presented by and at Tada! Youth Theater, 15 W. 28th St., NYC. April 29–May 20. Schedule varies. (212) 252-1619 ext. 128 or www.tadatheater.com.
 

 
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