I have managed to catch quite a few of the musicals being presented under the auspices of the Festival of New American Musicals. Actually not that many are technically new, but many were new to Southern California. One of the new musicals is called The Green Room and is getting its world premiere at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. A workshop of The Green Room was presented in 2005 but this is the first professional production.
The talented cast includes Jessica Gisin, Stephanie Burkett Gerson, Michael J. Willett, and Zane Gerson. They are all in their early twenties but show skill much beyond their years. The book was written by C. Stephen Foster (who played a drag as Joanne in Come back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean earlier this season) and Rod Damer, the music and lyrics by Chuck Pelletier.
The musical was introduced as representing the next generation after Rent and created by young writers, though actually, judging by their credits, they have been around awhile and have pretty good resumes as a performers (Foster and Damer) and as a composer of three other musicals (Pelletier).
While I encourage new work, The Green Room doesn’t rise much above the level of a college production. The script is funny at times, but I found the characters cloying. One, Divonne as played by Jessica Gisin, was rather abrasive actually. Breaking up with her nerdy boyfriend, Cliff (the exuberant Michael J. Willett), the first thing she says is that she is doing so because his penis is too small and she thinks she’s a lesbian.
Another problem with the script is that parts of it don’t make sense. Cliff is supposed to be Anna’s (Stephanie Burkett Gerson) younger brother, starting classes a year behind the others; suddenly he is graduating with the group and heading off to New York to put on a musical. Also, one of my pet peeves is making a plot point of how talented the characters are and how creative their project is, whether it’s a soon-to-be-published book or a show on its way to New York (think Joey in Friends). The show these young thespians are bringing to New York wouldn’t last a day.
The performers are all very talented and, except for the Divonne character, congenial. Most of the songs are fairly good, especially “It’s All About Me,” which has been awarded a prize by the Songwriters Guild of America; occasionally, though, there are just too many words to fit the melodies. This isn't helped by the direction of Stephanie Coltrin, who has characters standing on furniture (how often do people really do that?) and has the above-mentioned song sung to the audience while most of the other numbers respect the fourth wall.
The point of all this, though, is to give a musical a first go-round. The secret to writing a musical is in the rewriting. There is a lot here that can be salvaged, and even as is, there are many enjoyable moments and scenes, and the performers are all good. Hermosa Beach Playhouse is to be congratulated for giving the musical a chance. The Green Room closes on May 31.