Regional Reviews: San Diego
Now, La Jolla Playhouse has mounted a new musical version based on novel and the film with a book by Tony Award nominee Adam Rapp and a score by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine. Running through April 9, the musical seems destined for a life beyond its world premiere production.
The rebellious teenager can be traced at least to the 1950s and James Dean. Dean was, however, a loner who stood out in a crowd. Teenage gangs came to the fore as the subject of a musical in Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents' West Side Story. With its Sharks and Jets, West Side Story told a story of two groups who were fighting over turf.
Ms. Hinton's novel, mostly written when she was sixteen, drew on her knowledge of youth culture in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Socs and Greasers were terms she knew from local experience. The gangs essentially represented class differences, rich versus poor and to some degree white versus brown. Yet, popular music remained the soundtrack of teen life. In this stage version, the music is what is known as "roots rock" and draws on the style of the band called Jamestown Revival, a pair of men (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) who write about the experience and feelings of young men. Justin Levine is also credited with music and lyrics, as well as being music supervisor and producer of arrangements and orchestrations. Mr. Levine's other credits come primarily from New York theatre, including Broadway. The result is a mix of styles that, for me, doesn't always jell. Interestingly, song titles sometimes reflect what the characters are reading or watching, such as Dickens' "Great Expectations" or the Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke.
The central character is Ponyboy, performed by understudy Trevor Wayne at the performance I saw, standing in for Brody Grant. The leader of the Socs is Bob (Kevin Wayne Paul), and his character reverts to bullying whenever he is not getting his way. Ponyboy has two brothers, Darrel (Ryan Vasquez) and Sodapop (Jason Schmidt), and they look out for him and come to his rescue when needed. Ponyboy's best friend is Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch), and his friend Two-Bit (Trevor McGhie) helps to keep things light. The actors playing the principal characters sing well and dance energetically to choreography by brothers Rick Kuperman and Jeff Kuperman.
Like West Side Story, the Greasers and the Socs meet to "have it out." The meeting place is an abandoned church (scenic design is by AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian, and projection design is by Tal Yarden and Taylor Edelle Stuart). A fire starts and it becomes evident that people are trapped in the building. The Greasers rush in to save the trapped and suddenly become town heroes. However, some of the rescuers is seriously injured, and at least one dies of injuries. There is still the rumble to hold, and that too ends in tragedy.
Director Danya Taymor does her best to keep things moving, but getting through the plot in the second act makes the show feel like it drags as the characters limp toward the conclusion. I suspect the creative team will focus on Act 2 as they work on revisions.
As Ponyboy, Mr. Wayne looks the part, acts with confidence, sings stylishly, and was cheered by his castmates at the curtain call. The program indicates that he does not have his Equity card yet. I wish him well moving forward.
La Jolla Playhouse has several theaters as part of its complex on the University of California San Diego campus. The theater housing The Outsiders roughly approximates a Broadway house. I'm hoping that's a good omen for the show's future life.
The Outsiders runs through Sunday, April 9, 2023, at La Jolla Playhouse, University of California San Diego Campus, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla CA. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Parking is free but complicated. For tickets and information, please visit lajollaplayhouse.org or call 858-550-1010.
Cast members not mentioned in the review are: Daniel Marconi as "Randy," Brent Comer as "Paul," Da'Von T. Moody as "Dallas," Piper Patterson as "Cherry, and "Kiki Lemieux as "Marcia." Ensemble members are: Annelise Baker, Barton Cowperthwaite, Tilly Evans-Krueger, Sean H. Jones, L'ogan J'ones, Renni Magee, Melody Rose and Daryl Tofa; swings: Jordan Chin, Milena J. Comeau and Tristan McIntyre.
Creative Team members not otherwise listed are: Sarafina Bush (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer), Jeremy Chernick (Special Effects Designer), Nicholas Parrish (Wig Designer) and Tishonna Ferguson (Make-up Designer). The production team also includes Matt Hinkley (Music Director), Matt Stine (Music Producer), Ann James (Sensitivity Specialist), Gigi Buffington (Company Voice and Dialect), Liz Caplan (Vocal Supervisor), Tara Rubin Casting/Xavier Rubiano, CSA and Jacole Kitchen (Casting), Kristin Newhouse (Stage Manager), and Jenn Elyse Jacobs, Emily Searles, Kelly Martindale and Dean Remington (Assistant Stage Managers).