Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

Mrs. Doubtfire and Trevor: A New Musical
Reviews by Rob Lester

Ghostlight Records

In one of Mrs. Doubtfire's many high-energy numbers, "Easy Peasy," the mission is following recipes to make a meal. This musical's recipe for entertainment features a combination of such ingredients as wacky humor, sentimentality, rue, rage and rock. Whether the mix and its mixed results make you feel uneasy or goes down easy-peasy depends on your taste for broad strokes and a fondness (or forgiveness) for frenzy. Based on the movie of the same name, Mrs. Doubtfirehas songs and performances that seem to be desperately determined to shake, rattle and roll us into a willingness to merrily roll along with its glee or grit–and then convince us that there's true tenderness underneath the brashness. Orchestrator/arranger/musical supervisor Ethan Popp, recently turning in such duties on Broadway (Tina, School of Rock, Motown: The Musical), keeps much of music in a high octane style. There's no overture or entr'acte and the score doesn't indulge in reprises.

The cast is working hard to turn up the heat and also warm our hearts. The seemingly indefatigable Rob McClure stars. He plays the doting but daffy dad facing divorce and disguising himself as the title "female" character, sneakily answering his unsuspecting ex's ad for a nanny to tend to his three kids. Although much in the score can be noisy and/or nutty, there are respites and reality checks. Before and between the donnings of Doubtfire drag, he has song opportunities to lament his lot ("I Want to Be There" and "The Mess I've Made") which help to engender sympathy and show some self-awareness. The most touching is a late-in-the-game number shared with the effective Analise Scarpaci as the teen-age daughter wishing that her parents could "Just Pretend" to be happily married again. Jenn Gambatese as the mom doesn't get much chance to show her side in song, but her one solo, "Let Go," is a noble try. Within some numbers in this score by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, there's a fair amount of the sparring and sassy dialogue by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick. (The three writers also brought us the far funnier Something Rotten!, and a few members of that show's original cast are here as well, notably Brad Oscar and Peter Bartlett, although they don't get much singing to do.)

A real LOL loopy highlight is the flamenco-styled "He Lied to Me," sung by Aléna Watters as a restaurant entertainer in a madcap segment that also includes dialogue for the slapstick schtick of quick gender/costume changes. The feel-good happy-ending message song, "As Long As There Is Love," tries its sweetly sunshiney best to send us out with a perky panacea, although after a lot of snark and angst it seems more like a bromidic balm borrowed from "The Partridge Family" or "Sesame Street." To their credit, the cast sells it, sounding blissfully like they own the philosophy that caring and optimism will dissolve any obstacle.     

Arguably, a lot of what this musical depends on to divert and delight is the kind of visual pizzazz that can only be imagined or remembered with an audio recording. We don't see the parade of impersonated, costumed famous females ranging from Cher to Julia Child, considered as possible models that accompany the "Make Me a Woman" request that leads to latex lady-shaping and costuming for the protagonist. Only in our mind's eye do we view the all-stops-out juxtapositions of a supposedly matronly figure awkwardly stepping into model fashions or stepping up to dance hyperbolically, treating a broom like a rock guitar, making "The Shape of Things to Come" and "I'm Rockin' Now" feel underwhelming and overblown. 

It's probably best to find some fun and froth in the Mrs. Doubtfirecast recording, rather than forage for more depth or drama than this eager-to-please entertainment might supply.

Ghostlight Records

Welcome to the musicalized world of being an adolescent in suburbia in 1981. Trevor: A New Musicalplayed Off-Broadway last year and reminds us that, for teens, angst, insecurity, bullying, peer pressure, and the woes of fitting in versus standing out belong to any decade. Fashions change more easily than attitudes. Based on the award-winning short film of the same name, Trevorcenters, sympathetically, on a kid tip-toeing into facing his feelings about what attracts him beyond the songs and style of Diana Ross. Played wistfully and with shrugging acceptance and chugging cheery spirit by teenager Holden Hagelberger, he keeps some thoughts hidden and keeps those pages with photos of men posing in underwear hidden under his mattress. Finding it causes concern for Trevor's parents who initially appear viewing the TV news about the assassination attempt on President Reagan, oblivious to their son except for the fact that he's blocking the screen. That's not all that's being blocked.

Actual hit songs of pop diva Ross, such as the pointed "Do You Know Where You're Going To," populate the proceedings, as the glamorous singing star is a presence in the boy's imagination (and physically on stage in the show). She provides an almost fairy godmother sort of encouragement as well as joy and catharsis. Yasmeen Sulieman is vocally a very fine facsimile in the superfan's dream world. Back in reality, junior high school life can be hell, but Trevor gets ever closer to feeling like he's in heaven when he can be part of a school show (magnified in a fantasy dance sequence), especially when the charismatic and cool guy named Pinky becomes someone to be with, as one of the guys he gets to practice with (choreography or basketball) and, it seems, get close to. If only.

Julianne Wick Davis (music) and Dan Sullivan (lyrics and book) have written a show that keeps its distance from real darkness. The light touch makes even sequences expressing frustrations and conflict feel more like restlessly churning energy for the ensemble of students marching through day-to-day life that just goes "on and on and on and on" or when "Everything Is Weird." Comfort and perspective come from a perceived bright light at the end of the tunnel, happiness and success coming "One of These Days" with an almost tangible picture and plan concerning life ten years hence. In reality, that's probably an eternity for many of those early into their second decade of life.

In "Who I Should Be," some poignancy and revelations mix with fumbling attempts to articulate feelings, making the resulting language believably age-appropriate, but not terribly rewarding to listen to ("It's sort of hard to explain"... "It's like, I'm like, I don't know"). When the plot thickens, the walls close in and things get bleak and comfort levels change, loneliness casts its shadow cuing songs to express feeling "Invisible"or hope-challenged. Our hero is increasingly seen as an unwelcome outsider instead of a garrulous goofball ("What's Wrong with You?"). Most of the teens have serviceable but not dazzling singing voices, and aren't very fleshed out, their characters tagged as mostly plot-serving "types": sneering jock bullies, a mildly affable chum, a girl with an unrequited crush. The exception is Sammy Dell who comes across as unforced and naturally nuanced, but wisely not quite predictable, as Pinky. On the adult side, Aaron Alcarez is a very welcome and warm presence as a caring hospital volunteer, offering the recording's best vocal moment, joining the put-upon hero for a version of "One of These Days" that serves as the needed balm.

Bits of dialogue are interspersed within some musical numbers and give more context and characterization. Alas, it sometimes can be difficult to hear all the rushed words when there's a lot of sound. It might be the big kicking beat or a choir of voices competing with a solo singer. The small band is dominated by its electric keyboards. In what is starting to be more of a dismaying trend recently, no lyric booklet or plot synopsis is provided with this and other digital-only releases, and so those who didn't see the original film or this show (live or in the capture of it now streaming on Disney+) may miss elements of turning points.)

Trevorcaptures some aspects of alienation and acceptance (and self-acceptance), confusion and conundrums without getting in too daringly deep to risk danger alarms and despair. On the plus side, it doesn't become a heavy-handed cautionary tale or pounce to paint over all its clouds with gobs of gooey rainbow colors. It is unpretentious and not preachy–and that is an accomplishment.