Sunday, November 21, 2021

18. TREVOR: THE MUSICAL (seen November 20, 2021)

A few blocks away from where Broadway’s recently opened Diana, the Musical, about the British princess, is playing is a new Off-Broadway musical, Trevor: The Musical, in which another real-life Diana, Diana Ross, that is, the one-time queen of Motown, sparkles. This Diana, beautifully incarnated by Yasmeen Suleiman in a series of brightly colored sequined gowns (designed by Mara Blumenfeld) and giant afros (created by Tom Watson), is only a secondary (and imaginary) character. She is, however, one of the few reasons to spend an overlong two hours and 15 minutes watching the socially relevant, but exceedingly familiar, Trevor,  a show that premiered four years ago at the Writers Theatre, Glencoe, Illinois.

Holden William Hagelberger, Yasmeen Suleiman. (Photos: Joan Marcus.)

The Visitor, another socially meaningful current musical, began as a 2007 dramatic movie. It was probably musicalized because one of its leading charactersis an immigrant drummer, a device that offered opportunities for a percussive score. Trevor (book and lyrics, Dan Collins; music, Julianne Wick Davis) is also based on a nonmusical movie, a 1995 Oscar-winning short film, Trevor, based on "Dear Diary," an original story by Celeste Lecesne that formed part of James Lecesne's one-man show, Word of Mouth. It, too, has a character inviting musicalization:  a gay, 13-year-old, junior high theatre nerd with a fetishistic love of Diana Ross.

Company of Trevor: The Musical.

Trevor, set in 1981, tells the story of how Trevor (Holden William Hagelberger) becomes increasingly aware that his sexual interests don’t jibe with those of his schoolmates. He’s made even more uncomfortable by the attitudes of his well-intentioned, in-denial, theatrically stock-in-trade parents (Sally Wilfert and Jarrod Zimmerman, who also play the other adults). Trevor, unable to share his secrets, keeps a notebook detailing his growing affection for Pinky (Sammy Dell), the school’s star athlete. Pinky’s own sexuality itself can seem ambiguous, but the writers choose not to go down that rabbit hole.

Despite suspicions regarding his orientation, Trevor earns some measure of respect when he employs his talents to stage an all-male number (including Pinky) for the school’s annual talent show. The discovery of his journal, though, leads to cruel bullying, including the hard-to-buy subversion of the number Trevor tried staging with them. (Why do kids in musicals like these always strive to prove William Golding’s point?) Faced with universal ostracism, Trevor sees no option but to open a vial of aspirins. Fortunately, a gay Candy Striper (Aaron Alcaraz) at the hospital offers worthwhile advice from his own experience that helps Trevor face the future. Yes, just like that.

Holden William Hagelberger, Sammy Dell. 

Trevor, briskly directed by Marc Bruni, and brightly choreographed by Josh Prince, leans more toward musical comedy than musical drama, although the subjects of homophobic bullying, or just plain bullying, and teen suicide are urgently important. The film even inspired the Trevor Project, a now huge 24/7 suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ young people. But social significance doesn’t automatically make a show successful. This thought seems to have reached the general public, since the show, which I didn’t see until ten days after it opened, was around one-fourth full at the matinee I visited.

Donyale Werle has provided a rather dullish setting of sliding units that show either Trevor’s bedroom or the school's bi-level interior, with the ensemble choreographed to bring on or strike furnishings as needed. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting and Ms. Blumenfeld’s costumes brighten things now and then, as in the Saturday Night Fever-like dream routine in which Pinky and his fellow jocks dance in white suits, fedoras, and canes, or when Diana Ross appears, usually through shiny curtain strips. But most of the kids (who look more like adolescents than typical for such shows), including Trevor, are dressed rather plainly.

The mop-haired, likeable Mr. Hagelberger, only thirteen himself, resembling a member of the audience more than the lead in an expensive musical, displays precocious acting, dancing, and singing talents. He holds the stage with expertise (watch, for example, as he replicates Ms. Ross’s mannerisms) and his acting is perfectly fine. At the moment, though, his still developing voice—for all its strength—is more musically satisfactory than impressive; “pitchy,” as they used to say on “American Idol.”

Holden William Hagelberger and company.

The score only fitfully embraces anything like the pop sound of the early 80s, too much of it sounding unoriginally generic. Introducing Diana Ross’s songs (like “Do You Know?” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”)—presented as words of wisdom for the struggling Trevor—only sharpens the contrast between the memorable and the forgettable.

Despite being occasionally reminiscent of other recent popular school-themed musicals, from Spring Awakening to Mean Girls to Dear Evan Hansen to The Prom to Be More Chill to England’s Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, very little about Trevor puts it on their level. While there are some decent laughs, as during a scene when a priest, Father Joe (Mr. Zimmerman), offers Trevor meaningless counsel, the funniest moments come when a schoolgirl reaches into her mouth to remove her rubber band braces.

Stretching the tightly packed movie version of Trevor into an over two-hour show only thins its impact. This makes the songs, no matter how well sung, and dances, no matter how cleverly arranged, into little more than time-filling stuffing. When Act One ended, I felt I’d seen enough. After Act Two, not even a Candy Striper could have changed my mind. 


Stage 42

422 W. 42nd St., NYC

Open run