Have times changed so much? When Trevor, the American short film, based on (James) Celeste Lecesne’s character in their Off Broadway award-winning one-man show, Word of Mouth, won the 1995 Academy Award, it seemed fresh, new and daring. Now a musical version of the same material also called Trevor seems dated and passé. Part of the problem is that the new musical with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis plays like an afterschool special and is too tame for 2021. FYI, the movie led to the founding of The Trevor Project by writer Lecesne, director Peggy Rajski, and producer Randy Stone, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
In the show’s defense, set in 1981 Trevor takes place before AIDS, Matthew Shepard or same-sex marriage. However, taking place in a junior high school with characters who are 13 years old, the dialogue and story now seem too clean to represent real teenagers. The simple plot follows Trevor Nelson, a sensitive, artistic youth who does not seem to like girls, worships singer Diana Ross, and is troubled about his sexuality. His oblivious parents seem to suspect nothing. When Trevor’s crush on fellow student Pinky Farraday (named for the baseball player), the athletic jock heartthrob of the eighth grade who has befriended him, becomes common knowledge, Trevor considers suicide as the only way out.
The writers seem afraid to state what the story is all about, the word gay being mentioned exactly once. At two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission, today’s audience is way ahead of the plot, knowing exactly what will happen in advance. While the 1994 movie was 23 minutes, the musical seems padded and dragged out. Davis’ music is pleasant enough, but Collins’ lyrics are pedestrian and repetitious. The songs seem to have a limited vocabulary such as children’s books often do, but 13 year olds have a slang and vernacular that is hardly used. The biggest problem with the score is that the dream Diana Ross (played flamboyantly and spiritedly by Yasmeen Sulieman) gets to sing seven of her most iconic songs (“Do You Know?,” “It’s My Turn,” “Upside Down,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me,” “Endless Love” and “I’m Coming Out”) which are far superior to any of the new songs, always a mistake in a non-jukebox musical.
As Trevor, 13-year-old newcomer Holden William Hagelberger is a force of nature going through his paces singing, dancing, acting and miming, without seemingly breaking a sweat. However, at times he seems androgynous in the way of preadolescents – which in this case is slightly disconcerting. Sammy Dell makes a handsome junior high school golden boy as Pinky but seems equally confused about things. As Trevor’s parents (who also play all of the other adult roles), Sally Wilfert and Jarrod Zimmerman have been directed by Marc Bruni to be extremely bland, aside from being oblivious to their son’s needs but not in a comic way. Best of the students is Isabel Medina as Frannie, a classmate who she makes three-dimensional unlike the other synthetic students. Seen only once in the next to the last scene, Aaron Alcaraz as Jack, a candy striper in the local hospital, who has gone through a similarly troubled childhood as Trevor and could be a role model, is a breath of fresh air.
The unit set by Donyale Werle depicting the two-story halls of Lakeview Junior High which morphs into Trevor’s bedroom, a building site, and a local Tastee Freeze is serviceable, but nothing more. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes capture Diana Ross’ fabulousness, but are much more muted for the junior high school kids. The lighting by Peter Kaczorowski varies appropriately with the vicissitudes of the story. Choreographer Josh Prince is given one sensational dance number when Trevor takes the football team through their paces for the student talent show which turns out to be a dream sequence.
Musicals about teenagers not being accepted for being different from their peers have appeared in recent years in the acclaimed Mean Girls, The Prom and Be More Chill. Unfortunately, the new musical Trevor seems to have come late to the field and is overshadowed by those earlier shows. While it certainly has its heart in the right place, this Trevor has not decided who its target audience is and wants to have it two ways.
Trevor: The Musical (through April 17, 2022)
Stage 42, 442 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission