The drawn out opening number is a young woman alone on the relatively bare stage singing a lackluster song about driving. It’s not a very promising start.
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s original book is filled with incidents, vignettes, reflections, observations, and flashbacks, but short on actual plot. There is deciding on which college to attend, or not to go to college at all in order to find oneself, and the suspense of passing a driving test. A tragic occurrence is a major event.
Ms. Kerrigan and Lowdermilk’s score is a characteristically contemporary compendium of numbers that are more like sung dialogue rather then polished songs, though there are a few strong ballads and the bright “Cookies.” The mostly harsh music is heavy on the strings and has repetitive, thumping motifs. The lyrics are simple and declarative and inspire the cast to at times border on yelling.
Samantha Brown lives with her single mother Beverly. Beverly graduated from Harvard, has graduate degrees, is a professor of statistics at a local college and is the best selling author of a parenting book. She wants Sam to follow in her high-powered footsteps. The rambunctious Kelly is Sam’s best friend, and is a free-spirited B student. Adam is a goofy but loyal young man Sam is involved with, and who will be going into his father’s tire business after high school.
Feeling the pressure from her impending life choices and her strong-willed mother, Sam who hasn’t yet learned how to drive is poised to get away from it all by taking a road trip with Kelly, who has a driver’s license. Will they or won’t they?
Director Stephen Brackett’s staging is suitably basic for a production with minimal scenic design. Alexandra Beller’s choreography is an airy, free form series of movements that the cast fluidly performs.
Krystina Alabado is intense, yet understated as Sam. The appealing Ms. Alabado’s characterization of a young woman overwhelmed by options is perfect. Crucially, she has a great rapport with Emma Hunton who plays Kelly. Ms. Hunton is a frenetic delight in this familiar, raucous best friend role with poignant overtones. Hunton also appears in a few other small parts to terrific comic effect.
At the performance under review, due to Ben Fankhauser’s indisposition, the part of Adam was played instead by Jay Armstrong Johnson. Wearing a backwards baseball cap, jeans and plaid shirt, Mr. Johnson is captivating with his offbeat charm, sunniness and youthful presence. (Johnson will continue in the role of Adam through December 3 while Fankhauser will return to the role on December 5.)
Broadway veteran Leah Hocking as Beverly delivers a powerhouse performance and that’s problematic. In a stylish, suburban outfit and with eyeglasses, the charismatic Ms. Hocking takes this strong, though supporting part and runs with it. Hocking demonstrates the force and voice required for Rose in Gypsy, and that at times throws the balance of the show off.
The stage is dominated by blue platforms that with small rectangular car headlights are the chief features of Adam Rigg’s spare scenic design that symbolizes a car. Less effective is a miniature section of a house that distractingly hangs from the ceiling and that occasionally emits smoke.
David Lander’s mostly bright lighting design starkly accentuates the actions. Alex Hawthorn’s blasting sound design is appropriate for the material.
The characters are all authentically realized by Jessica Pabst’s inspired costume design that includes some glittery creations for the senior prom.
The Mad Ones has been in development for several years, having had a number of regional productions and this is its New York City premiere. Running an hour and forty minutes without an intermission, it’s only fitfully compelling but could strike a chord with those have an affinity with the subject matter.
The title is a quote of Jack Kerouac’s from On the Road:
…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
The Mad Ones (through December 17, 2017)
Prospect Theater Company
Theater A, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.prospecttheater.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission