REVIEW BY ROB LESTER***What better message to deliver to kids than that happiness and friendship will come if you’ll “Just be who you really are”? A musical — endearingly entertaining — now playing, with a cast of delightful, disciplined, dazzling young actors (ages 8-18) bringing the message home without being sugar-coated, coy, preachy or presenting pat answers. At TADA!, the 31-year-old super success story of a theater company (15 West 28 Street) training terrific, talented and clearly dedicated youth — and presenting ensemble shows with all-kid casts— New York, New Year has come up with a real winner on all counts. It’s brisk, is accessible to a wide range of ages in its personality-rich characters, situations, and songs — not overly simple, not too complex. The happy medium makes for happy, attentive audiences.
If it’s your first experience with a TADA! Show, you’ll dismiss any worries about possibly unfocused, cute-but-amateur-time kid actors within mere moments. These well-trained young performers are consistently in character, acting and reacting with nuance, and their crisp, clean stage movements from first steps in walking or dancing to final frozen poses at the end of one engaging song after another are solidly in place. While the above indicates thorough training, direction, and choreography, the other good news bulletin is that they don’t seem robotic. While they’ve been given sure-handed guidance, the performances feel organic and often joyful. Nothing is belabored and while savvier observers will sense that “Be yourself”message and maybe the outcome, that’s as it should be, and one doesn’t feel beaten over the head ahead of time. I noted adults and kids being attentive and enthusiastic. I wouldn’t bring the under-5 set. (Yes, yes, I know her mother says four-year-old Aurora Mariella is exceptionally mature and has the attention span of a 20-year-old, but…. this show is not for the nursery set with plinkety-plunk ditties about teddy bears and peanut butter.)
This thoughtful musical about a Missouri teen transplant, Tess, adjusting to life in not-initially-friendly, faster-paced NYC, makes us root for her to be accepted without trying too hard to please or to go through a personality transplant to be accepted. Easier said than done. “I Wanna Fit In!” Tess flatly states in song (and dance steps) on her first day in the school where the welcoming committee consists of not classmates, but the 12 months of the calendar year. You read that right. Her supportive sort-of-guardian-angel-types are played by a dozen distinctively different male and female actors of different heights and looks, presented cleverly as personifications of — in order of appearance— ebullient and helpful January (new school semester), funny, female February (who complains that her time is unfairly shortest), March (“Women’s History Month!”), a very fun moment for April’s April Fools Day and May, who is vexed by a common misuse of grammar involving her name when used in lower case. And so it goes as each “month” guides Tess through the stress of her six months in one school grade, summer break (which includes a visit back home with her disappointed, neglected BFF from whom she’s drifted) and then through the year until the December brings Season’s Greetings and the year ends with a birthday surprise that tests Tess. Says director/scriptwriter of the new version, Christina Franklin, “I was fascinated by the use of inanimate objects, ideas, or measurements of time acting as vessels of storytelling.”she explains.
The show is written, directed, and acted in a style that makes the struggle to really internalize “I Can Be Anyone” message rather realistic. (Of course, for this TADA! Resident Youth Ensemble, many of whom return year after year, the experience of becoming various characters show after show has a related lesson as actors become their characters and leave themselves behind when on stage.)
And the show is also a valentine to the special excitement and places that make us love NYC. But it acknowledges some of the hassles, too. One character is written to be a boy who’s a walking encyclopedia of NYC facts and history, which allows some real info to be worked in without feeling shoehorned or having to have a scene where Tess reads from a guidebook or textbook. The three schoolmates who spend time with her are refreshingly varied to add spice. In addition to the just-mentioned fellow, there are two girls: one who’s upbeat and a mega-fan of the arts, and a tough cookie who can be glum and dismissive, aloof, judgmental, eye-rollingly condescending. With friends like her, who needs enemies? But, wait! There’s more to her than that. You’ll see. (And you should, in this production that is appealing for both children and adults, and nails the teen mindset of being cool at any cost.)
And I doubt you’ll be looking at your watch, and the show has a built-in sense of how much more there is to come as each “host month” comes and goes through a door that doubles as one of the students’ lockers. In any case, you won’t be thinking the old show tune line, “It’s a long, long while from May to December.” Mr. December, who’s present in the ensemble throughout, pops up and out for his spotlight moments in the last scene and has an answer to perplexed Tess’s question about what to do next that gets one of the biggest laughs in the whole presentation.
Because some of the key roles, are double cast—such as Tess the newbee, her new New York trio of pals, January, and the loyal chum from back home who gets touchy when they don’t stay in touch so closely (“I’ll text you later! ‘Bye”). But —let’s face it: face-to-face, in person, is more personal, making one’s “One on One” talks one step better. Make that a few steps — an encouraging thought to hear sung by this century’s residents whose ever-present devices are prized and attached as their umbilical cords once connected them. Speaking of steps, resident choreographer (and Associate Artistic Director) Joanna Greer’s ideas fit well, use the space well, and allow the troupe to do real dancing and appear confidently agile, bringing out the energies and moods of the Michael Mulder/Gary Bagley songs into even clearer delivery.
So, with the several roles played by different actors at different performances, I was curious about how that would work for all involved. So, after my first day as a very satisfied customer to come back the following day to see the others, and, well, just to have another dose of its pleasures. Interestingly, while costume ideas were consistent, some of the actors were quite different in looks and approach. It’s one more feather in a company’s cap that they can make the adjustments, and not clone kids, but rather capitalize on the differences, individual strengths, without throwing other things off-kilter. In some instances, there is as much as a four or five year difference between the alternating actors in a role. That can be one-third a lifetime in grown-up years!
New York, New Year feels new and fresh. But, actually,not something completely new. The many integrated elements involving this generation’s technology, a line about cel phone service now available underground in the subway system, etc. and the natural “today” behavior and language, and the musical styles sounding like timeless but timely musical theater spiffiness would not make you guess it’s been around longer than any member of the cast. In fact, its script has had a major overhaul by the enterprising Ms. Franklin who fell in love with the basic storyline and songs when her brother was in the cast of the earlier production back in 1999. Both were TADA! members growing up. The perspective and affection pay off.
While the songs in large part are not all that changed, though some have new lyrics and one, about how the city has “More Than Meets the Eye” has a full set of new lyrics by very adept musical director/pianist Matthew Gregory (Ed Chiarello, percussionist, is his sole bandmate).
The credits are below, but the director is quick to also credit the cast’s creative input and their ability to absorb changes during the rehearsal process: She told me, “I was making changes up until tech week. I would change things if they looked good on paper, but sounded weird when said aloud. My favorite moments were when the actors would ad lib or make what I would call a ‘happy accident’ that ended up working perfectly for that part in the show. I would write it into the script right then and there.”
New York, New Year — like the city it takes place in and celebrates— is alive with energy, diversity, and excitement.
See www.tadatheater.com for lots more info on buying tickets to this show and the summer production, other upcoming events, including training: (year-round classes, one-day programs, short-term summer workshops for kids as young as 4); auditions, tax-deductible donations, history, Open House days, in-school programs, and to get on the mailing list.
Phone: (212) 252-1619 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, New Year, seen at TADA!’s productions’ home at 15 West 28 Street in Manhattan, running through May 21. Tickets start at $10. Remaining performances are on the following dates and times:
|May 12th 7:00PM|
|May 13th 2:00PM|
|May 13th 4:00PM|
|May 19th 7:00PM|
|May 20th 2:00PM|
|May 20th 4:00PM|
|May 21st 2:00PM|
|May 21st 4:00PM|
- Director/ New Book: Christina Franklin
- Music: Michael Mulder
- Lyrics/Original Concept: Gary Bagley
- Music Director/ Additional Lyrics: Matthew Gregory
- Choreographer: Joanna Greer
- Scenic Design: Ryan Howell
- Lighting Design: Stephen Arnold
- Costume Design: Al Malonga
- Stage Manager: Amy Fisk
- Production Supervisor: Jacob Platt
- Assistant to the Director: Ceanna Bryant
- Press/PR: Maya PR/Penny Landau
- Janine Nina Trevens, Producing Artistic Director/Co-Founder
- Rod Christensen, Executive Director