Don’t worry, Vote is not Disney’s High School Musical. But it is a musical set in high school and has its goals set to…. Well, it’s a little hard to tell. Maybe this tale of a high school election is like the politicians who flip flop and think they can try to please all the people all the time.
One minute it’s the broadly played comical “cartoon musical” as described in advance material. Then, bam! There it is, a hard-hitting slam at the evils of politics gone wrong (or do they always go wrong?) and the quest for power that entices people to lose their moral compass, lie, cheat and steal.
One moment, it’s a vampy dance fantasy, and then an earnest look at racial prejudice when a bi-racial student speaks up. The whole is not the sum of its parts; it’s mostly parts that partly work on their own. It’s not unusual for a musical to have an identity crisis. It’s not unusual for teenagers to have identity crises, and we have that here, too. “Uneven” might be the operative word, but I found enough to like to give Vote my vote of confidence that, with a little after-school help, it can make the grade.
A for effort, but…. This musical seems to want us to laugh at and love to hate and then take more seriously the ditzy, bratty dumb blonde type who never does her homework (she has someone do that for her). She’s the cliché perky but bitchy cheerleader type, but then we’re asked to stifle the laugh and yawn and accept that this academically apathetic airhead might be going to college to be a doctor. And she’s running for school council president, but what really is at stake when there isn’t much power or control such a glorified popularity contest winner has, and oops, they seem to know that. Even the deluded ditz named Muffin (rhymes with “She isn’t bluffin’”) is played to type with the ultimate type of type casting by Bailey Hanks, who was the winner of the title role in Legally Blonde via an MTV reality show competition, so she’s even used to competing.
Perky, plucky, tosses her hair, and is forced to continually remind people that her obnoxious habits are “part of my charm.” Scratch the surface and find more surface and then a pre-med candidate. Running against her is a maniacal, power-hungry male student with Richard Nixon as his role model. He’s terrifically played by Morgan Karr, who’s been in Spring Awakening and has highly watchable go-for-broke tendencies with canny ways of knowing just how much madness to sprinkle in. His hippity-hop and slinky movements and ways of lacing a word with snarkiness or sly threats, are delightful. Darting eyes that are poison darts, the fussing and fuming, the ever-ready urge for pontificating, wearing his bow tie like a badge of honor--- all right on the money. Deidre Goodwin is a dynamic belting powerhouse tigress who happens to be cast as the teacher and gets the star bow and some spotlight, but it’s not her story, is it? That seems to be another contest with no sure winner.
The songs are a mixed bag, too, evidencing some skill and thrill potential, often high energy, but some numbers are “by the numbers” in approach and intent. They try to convince the audience of something and succeed part way, like perhaps the students do in the electoral process. There were sound problems obscuring lyrics in a few songs, but they may have been worked out by now. (The show is by Ryann Ferguson and Steven Jamail, who was also on keyboards in the band.) It’s a lot to expect an audience being given cotton candy, to suddenly swallow a shot of hard truth serum in a song about confronting racial prejudice. Ryan J. Davis, the talented director behind the controversial White Noise about youth and the drive for success at any cost, may well be able to bring out the underbelly and underlying motives. But the cartoon elements don’t allow that to be the be-all and end-all. There’s a lot of fluff here, some good fluff, but also some lines that crystallize: In discussing political presentation with something that isn’t fully true: “That used to be called lying. Now it’s called marketing.”