Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Asperger's: A High-Functioning Musical
One of the hundred events in this month's Fringe Festival was a delightful, stripped-down version of this new musical about autism's most accessible variant a show its creators hope will return in the fall, in its full length. And, after seeing it in the funny, sad, and sublimely awkward one-hour version, I'm hoping it'll be back, too: longer and even more lovable.
The songs are delightful, but the melodies are nearly all sung just-slightly-off-key, to remind us the characters are hearing and seeing a different world. But the humor never misses its mark. The book and lyrics are by Dean and Adam Rosen, with music by Adam Rosen. And of all the things you may take away (if and when it returns), the anguish over simply fitting-in, and over making a life for one's self, is vibrantly alive in every moment. It's a bit like Avenue Q in its playful fatalism, but the characters are probably 10 years younger, so there's still room for hope. If they can ever get their medications right, that is.
Asperger's: A High-Functioning Musical opens with a satirical, fake commercial for an in-home Asperger's test-strip, complete with references to Thimerosal and other pop-culture touchstones of the condition, along with the scurrilous canard that suggests Asperger's families can force public schools to provide expensive, individualized teaching if kids are just "lucky" enough to get a positive test. It's a relief to get all that out of the way at once, so we can get right down to the characters, beyond the clichés.
Mary Beth Black plays the outsider, entering a support group for young people with the condition, and she gets a lot more than she bargained for. Of course, there are some familiar behaviors on parade. But they're handled in a way that humanizes each individual, thanks to director/choreographer Ed Reggi.
Michael Baird gets a very nice song about visiting the doctor, with a do-wop chorus backing him up; and Laura Hunter (as Allie) sings of her secret fears, and dreams of independence, in "Dear Diary." And "Take As Directed" is one of two songs that could have been written for a modern-day version of Hair, filled with resounding rebelliousness: bringing out all the pills you could imagine, and all the horrifying side-effects too (with a great punch-line delivered by Robert Michael Hanson).
The other great Hair-style song is ably delivered by Brandon Smith, as D.C.: "Panic" describes much of their existence, and the mood echoes the struggle of hippies in the 1960's, filled with the grim sense that the world has gone mad around them. But, in this dizzy rebellion, fueled by anxiety and a strange brew of pills, the wild hair may sometimes seem to grow inside our heads.
The show ran just one weekend, as part of the St. Louis Fringe Festival, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 South Grand (at Olive). For more information "Like" their Facebook page, "Asperger's: A High-Functioning Musical," or e-mail them at HighlyDistractedProductions@gmail.com An excerpt from the musical is planned for the local Pride-Fest over the final weekend in June http://pridestl.org/festival/entertainment/lineup/
Photo by Jonathan White