By Barry Reszel
If there’s a single lesson to be learned this week, it’s that words matter.
Because, as my dear friend Angel Plaza likes to say, “Let’s be for real.” That “sticks and stones…” bullshit our grandparents’ generations used to spew, so as to avoid heartfelt conversation over the heartbreaking reality we now correctly name “bullying,” didn’t work.
Just ask the manufacturers of Prozac and its generic equivalents.
In the midst of numbing conversations and video footage swimming with white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, the alt-right and defense of Confederate symbols accompanied by the sickening display of presidential “instability and incompetence” (according to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn), Glencoe’s Writers Theatre premiered a musical this week that brings home the chilling necessity for calling out hatred, bigotry and all the -isms and self-imposed -phobias in our society.
We do it for Trevor. And for all future Trevors. And we must be committed to doing it for as long as hate happens.
Trevor. The name means prudent—acting with or showing care and thought for the future. Juxtapose that definition with the ironically-named title character in Trevor, The Musical, taking a bottleful of aspirin somewhere in his eighth grade year when his male crush, the most popular kid in the class, writes in a note that Trevor would probably be better off dead.
And not just on stage.
Most recent stats say the suicide rate of 10- to 14-year-olds doubled from 2007 to 2014 (source here). What do we suppose happened from 2014 to today?
And where’s the statistic that indicates how many of these kids (along with thousands of lucky ones, like Trevor, whose attempts were unsuccessful) had been told by people they thought to be their friends; whose opinions they highly regarded; who desperately wanted their time, their kindness, their approval…that really, if it’s all just the same to you, go kill yourself?
If only I could name names, I’d out these scourges like Charlottesville Tiki-torch wielders. But we don’t have to look to the Confederate South to identify champions of hate; just to the middle schools of Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Winnetka, Evanston, Chicago, South Holland, Palos Hills, Cicero, La Grange, Hinsdale, Wheaton, Park Ridge, Insert Your Hometown Name Here…
That’s what emotionally gripping Trevor teaches us and why this brilliantly poignant musical by Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis (music) has to be on every Chicagoland musical theatre patron’s must-see list before it closes Sept. 17.
Feeling every bit the mash-up of Jason Robert Brown‘s 13 and this year’s every-accolade-including-the-Best-Musical-Tony, Dear Evan Hansen (maybe a little Kinky Boots thrown in there, too), Marc Bruni‘s splendidly directed Trevor, the Musical is the coming-of-age/sexual identity story based on the 1994 Academy Award-winning short film (watch it here). It ultimately launched The Trevor Project in support of LGBTQ youth (Read about The Trevor Project here).
Set in a 1981 middle America middle school, the title character (played at Writers by future Tony winner Eli Tokash) sports a deep infatuation with Diana Ross (gorgeously portrayed by Salisha Thomas) and all things musical theatre. With her encouragement, Trevor exudes a certain confidence, bringing terrific friendships with best pal Walter (the excellent Matthew Uzarraga), infatuated would-be girlfriend (wonderful young stage vet Tori Whaples) and homme fatale Pinky (fantastic Declan Desmond). Both the confidence and friendships ultimately erode through exploits of some queen bee wannabes and the sharing of Trevor’s private journal through which he explores his own questioning sexuality and crush on Pinky.
Bruni, who also directed Beautiful, the Carole King Musical, on Broadway, is among the talented Writers Theatre creative team, helmed by Artistic Director Michael Halberstam, that brings this gloriously sung and acted masterpiece-in-the-making to life. The musical was adapted by U Rock Theatricals, a group of young producers aiming to create a new generation of intelligent, relevant musicals. Collins’ book and lyrics complement Davis’ vibrant score filled with insightful ballads and full-cast production numbers highlighting the exceptional vocal work of the mostly youthful 19-member cast.
“On With the Show,” Underneath,” “One of These Days,” “Your Life is Over,” “Weird” and “What’s Wrong With Me?” among others, team with healthy snippets of the Diana Ross canon (“Do You Know,” “It’s My Turn,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me” and “Endless Love”) for a full-bodied songbook begging for a cast recording from this magnificent ensemble and terrific orchestra led by Music Director Matt Deitchman.
Choreographed by Josh Prince (Shrek and Beautiful on Broadway), the actors (often with chairs) glide across ample space given by Donyale Werle‘s functional two-tiered set with pull-out elements for seamless scene transitions. So too, most of Mara Blumenfeld‘s costumes are functionally period-perfect. But the standout costuming of Diana Ross, particularly the wardrobing for the finale, “I’m Coming Out,” must be experienced live. All of these elements are lovingly embellished with Lighting Designer Peter Kaczorowski‘s luminescence.
Also deserving acclaim and the winner of this production’s Constantin Stanislavski “No Small Parts” honor, awarded periodically by this reviewer, is Jhardon DiShon as the tender hospital candy-striper Jack. His authentic kindness and first-hand understanding (along with a blow-the-audience-out-of-the-water singing voice in the reprise of “One of These Days”) is the critical element that gives Trevor—and by extension, each patron—a sense of hope for the uncertain days ahead.
No doubt there will ultimately be changes to this world premiere—to make timing crisper and kids snarkier for its Broadway opening. But with the topical and age similarities to Dear Evan Hansen, the Broadway run ought to come years, not months from now.
That’s not because Trevor isn’t ready for the biggest stage, but because (for those who haven’t been paying attention) the world is full of idiots, and this brilliant show wouldn’t be given its due. Washington Raps hasn’t made it to the Great White Way yet, right?
So let the Hansen factor be New York’s loss, Chicagoland’s gain, and buy tickets to see what might just be the next great piece of the American musical theatre canon.
And remember always: Words matter.
Writers Theatre presents “Trevor” through October 8 at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. More information and tickets are available here.