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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Production Trumps Content in The Yellow Wood
from Contemporary Classics

The Yellow Wood
Evan Woltz, Sarah Davis, Daniel Berryman, Diana Huey and Justine Stillwell
There is much to admire in the Contemporary Classics production of The Yellow Wood, a new (and still developing) musical by Michelle Elliott (book and lyrics) and Danny Larsen (music and lyrics) which first played in a staged reading at Village theatre two summers ago. But Brandon Ivie's capable and sometimes electric direction and musical staging, and an absolutely solid and vibrant-voiced cast can't totally keep the material from feeling like an overlong Afterschool Special with music.

The "Yellow Wood" of the title is a reference to poet Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" which an ADHD-affected high school student named Adam is struggling to memorize for a required in-class recitation. On the day of the planned presentation, Adam has elected not to take his prescribed Ritalin, leading to flights of fancy which disrupt his classes, annoy his teachers, and alienate most of his fellow students. Add the challenge of having his younger sister Gwen attending Adam's school for the first time, and wanting his support, which is near impossible for him to give. The sub-plot of Adam's exploring and ultimately embracing his part Korean heritage, while not uninteresting, seems tacked on and distracting. It all adds up to a very disjointed ninety minutes without intermission, with some flashes of real musical theatre magic floating to the surface, thanks to Ivie's lively and varied staging.

By any definition, Daniel Berryman is giving a knockout dramatic and musical performance in the role of Adam. He makes the character more likable than any of the stick-figure adults represented, and earns consistent empathy. Diana Huey as his sister Gwen is an amazing vocalist, and gives a heartfelt representation of a character who always takes a backseat to her special needs sibling. Sarah Davis as Willis, a fellow student who in her own eccentric way appreciates and encourages Adam, sings like a dream and embraces her character's quirks most appealingly, while Evan Woltz as the chubby geek Casserole earns warm laughs. Heather Apellanes as Adam's mother and Asian ancestors shines in a touching duet with Berryman, which provides the show's musical highpoint. Brian Lange and Trish LaGrua boldly embrace and make something special of assorted stereotypical, weird teacher characters. Bob DeDea radiates warmth as the guiding presence of Robert Frost, and the rest of the company offer unflagging energy and powerful vocals. The show's musical direction by R.J. Tancioco and Michael Matlock is impressive and serves the score well.

Authors Elliott and Larsen are clearly gifted, and have I think written a show that will engage the 21 and under audience it is so clearly intended for. Myself? I got lost in The Yellow Wood.

The Yellow Wood runs through August 1st at the Seattle Center House theatre. For tickets, visit www.contemporaryclassics.org.


Photo: Justin Huertas

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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