Into the Woods is not the only fairy tale for adults in New York right now. Between the Lines, based on the best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, has been turned into a charming and delightful new musical which is actually an improvement over the overlong original. Featuring a talented and attractive cast headed by Arielle Jacobs, Julia Murney and Vicki Lewis as well as several unfamiliar faces, the show offers a melodic and bouncy score to witty and clever lyrics by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson in their New York theater debuts. Jeff Calhoun’s direction is sharp and smart making this an extremely entertaining show.
Delilah McPhee (Jacobs), the heroine of Between the Lines, is an outsider having moved to a new town when her parents were divorced and having to start junior year not knowing anyone. While her mother works two jobs to make ends meet, Delilah is pretty much on her own as well as in social Siberia after hurting Allie McAndrews, the most popular girl in school, in a sports accident. When Delilah finds a children’s fairy tale, Between the Lines by Jessamyn Jacobs, in the school library she becomes enthralled by it as its questing hero Prince Oliver (Jake David Smith) has also had to grow up without a father. However, reading this book sets her apart from her high school classmates who see her as strange.
When Prince Oliver inaccountably sends her a message through the book and then talks to her through the printed pages, she is smitten with this teenager who falls in love with her and treats her like she is the only person in the world. Unfortunately, her mother Grace (Murney) begins to think there is something wrong with her thinking she is now talking to herself. When she is befriended by Jules (Wren Rivera), a Goth member of her class who also hangs out in the library for Writing Club, Delilah finds herself more and more isolated. And then when Prince Oliver wants her to help him escape from the book in order to stop having to repeat the same adventure day after day, Delilah’s problems only increase. But instead Delilah lands inside the book and is taken for his cousin which infuriates his fiancée Princess Seraphina (Hillary Fisher, Aubrey Matalon at the performance under review), an airheaded royal who seems to know little about how things work. Eventually Delilah travels to another town to meet the author of the book to solve her problems.
Timothy Allen McDonald’s sophisticated libretto includes droll references to Waiting for Godot, Pride and Prejudice, A Farewell to Arms and first publisher Gutenberg. The varied score by Samsel and Anderson has the old-fashioned virtues of melody and catchy tunes while at the same time sounding contemporary and up-to-date. The first act alone includes the melodic “Another Chapter” sung by Delilah, “Between the Lines,” a clever duet sung by Delilah and Oliver, the hilarious “Inner Thoughts” sung by Allie and her followers, Ms. Winx’s witty “Mr. Darcy and Me,” about her love for the hero of Jane Austen’s novel, the romantic “In My Perfect World” sung by Delilah and Oliver, the angry “I’m Not Through” sung by Grace to Delilah, and the sweet “A Whole New Story” which closes the first act. Choreographer Paul McGill has created an impressive tap dance for Burton’s Frump to “Out of Character” in the second act.
Visually, the musical designed by Tobin Ost with costumes by Gregg Barnes is delicious. 3-D pages of the book appear with the characters played by the live actors in two dimensional settings. The visits to the book are overflowing with colorful, painterly designs while Prince Oliver’s family and court sport costumes in single colors each, creating a rainbow effect. The contemporary clothes are equally attractive. Jason Lyons’ lighting design enhances the hues of the sets with brilliantly colored lighting effects. The sets are framed by huge bookcases which remind us that reading is Delilah’s hobby and part of the time we are in a book.
Jacobs beautifully captures the confusion of teenage angst with too many problems to cope with at the same time. Handsome Smith is a very believable and chivalrous medieval prince who learns quickly about our world as well as dealing with his own. Except for Jacobs’ Delilah and Smith’s Prince Oliver, all of the other actors play at least two contrasting roles each, a very clever idea considering the plot’s two storylines. Murney is tense as Delilah’s put-upon mother Grace and amusing as the imperious Queen Maureen, Oliver’s mother, who likes to imbibe. Lewis steals every scene she is in from the knowledgeable librarian Ms. Winx to the lascivious chemistry teacher Mrs. Brown, to the impertinent Lady in Waiting to Queen Maureen, to the sagacious author Jessamyn Jacobs.
Matalon is hilarious as the mean girl Allie McAndews and the simple-minded Princess Seraphima. Will Burton is equally amusing as Allie’s jock boyfriend Ryan who is equally dim-witted and as Oliver’s dog Frump, a teenager who has been enchanted by a spell. Jerusha Cavazos gets a great deal of mileage out of Allie’s sidekick Janice who is having feelings she doesn’t understand and as Marina, one of three mermaids who makes Oliver’s life difficult.
As Martin, one of Allie and Ryan’s followers, Sean Stack causes plenty of trouble for Delilah always posting embarrassing photos of her in compromising situations created by Allie. He also appears in the throwaway roles of a Troll and a Process Server. Wren Rivera embodies the Goth lifestyle while befriending Delilah and also appears as Ondine, one of the prying mermaids. As the only male adult, John Rapson does fine work as the perceptive school therapist Dr. Ducharme and as the evil Rapskullio who is a very nice fellow outside of the fairy tale’s plot devices.
Not only is Between the Lines an entertaining show for young adults and older adults alike but it also has very good advice for all to follow: “Live the story you want, if it’s not the story you’re in.” Delilah discovers she is not alone in how she feels about books or life. Under the assured direction of Jeff Calhoun, the perfectly cast ensemble brings the Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer novel to vivid life while the writers have created a show and a score that is head and shoulders above most of the new musicals today. It also has visual style which is as delightful as the story.
Between the Lines (through October 2, 2022)
Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.BetweenTheLinesMusical.com
Running time: two hours and 35 minutes including one intermission