Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Everything from youthful angst and insecurity to self-discovery!
Good news, ardent fans of offbeat musical theater. The lovable gang from “[title of show]” is back with their endearingly goofy diversion called “Now. Here. This.” and perfect for anyone middle-school aged and up. Thin as a vanilla wafer but just as sweet, this live-streamed production from Morgan-Wixson Theater is livestreaming for three days only July 9th, 10th and 11th.
Anne Gesling, who directed all 24 of the previous Youth Musicals, including 2019’s runaway hit “Legally Blonde,” helms again for Y.E.S. Many of the performers from previous Youth Musical casts have returned, and many new faces are emerging, including Grace Holscher (Person 1a), Eadan Einbinder (Person 1b), Ruby Lapeyre (Person 2a), Anaiya Asomugha (Person 2b), Sidd Wali (Person 3a), Kristo Romano (Person 3b), Ethan Dale (Person 4a), and Finn Breen (Person 4b).
Sebastian Blue and Ruby Lapeyre, who have appeared in and behind the scenes on many productions at the MWT, are proud to be the very first youth executive producers of a Morgan-Wixson musical, leading the process from inception to performance.
Sebastian Blue is also the second music director, leading the band “Chesterfield People,” bringing live music to the youth program for the first time in years. The choreography is by MWT regular Mirai Booth-Ong. The show was filmed, edited and technically directed by Ian Liu.
Many of you interested in this show came to it by way of a Broadway musical called “[title of show].” That piece was originally created and performed by the same collective of artists responsible for "Now. Here. This." While NHT is neither a prequel nor sequel to “[title of show],” it did come about from a desire the original team had to continue a very productive and powerful collaboration.
After several hybrids of the show were created, an opportunity to workshop a full length show of these pieces came in the summer of 2009 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, after which the project continued to take shape with residencies at The MacDowell Colony and Weston Playhouse. In the summer of 2011, a staged lab workshop of NHT was presented which led to a full off Broadway production in the Vineyard’s season in the spring of 2012. That production starred Hunter Bell (co-author), Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), Susan Blackwell (co-author) and Heidi Blickenstaff and was directed and choreographed by Michael Berresse with musical direction by Larry Pressgrove.
In this version, the show tells the story of a group of adorable friends who reflect on life's big questions with inimitable humor and humanity in a loose and loopy exercise in musical autobiography, which is set during a Groupon outing to a natural history museum. They eventually settle on the idea that they should focus on the present; that is, the “Now. Here. This.” The show explores birds, bees, reptiles, early man, ancient civilizations and outer space. Also, loneliness, friendship, hoarding, hiding, laughing, living and dying. And middle school. And dinosaurs — a montage of subjects offering up its own unique blend of humor, daffy charm and good feeling with an audience-embracing brio that never flags.
“Now. Here. This.” opens on a seriously funny note with a song called “What Are the Odds?” It traces the history of the world, from the splitting of that first amino acid to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, up to this very minute, when “a cosmic force about the size of Peru starts pulling you toward us and us toward you.”
But why does this show get thumbs up from virtually everyone? Maybe it's because we can relate to these young people - not personally, but we feel they could even parallel our own early lives. They are meant to be any of the millions of slightly off-kilter creative types, the kind of people who have busy minds, fragments of ideas floating all the time, imagining what-ifs. There are a lot of us out there, after all.
Show biz has always been a magnet for those with a burning yearning for the spotlight, of course, so the tales of overcoming self-doubt, and longing to join the popular clique, sometimes strike banal or sentimental notes. Well, this group is nothing if not ambitious. This group is not only talented but completely engaging. They have a connection with one another that nearly makes you jealous. This is a group of which you want to be a part, so when they invite you in to an exploration of the cosmos, you jump.
Basically, the arc of the show — and life — is the desire for STUFF. A belief that getting that thing you desire will unlock the key to happiness. In the all-too-true number "Members Only," the title refers both to exclusive clubs and a popular 1980s jacket brand. It acknowledges the teenage rite of passage of finding the right clothing to get accepted by the popular people. It's amusing while being painfully real.
"Then Comes You" is a sweet song of friendship, and the truism that when you accept yourself, it's easier for others to accept you as well. As soon as the songs begin drifting into a sort-of new-age spiritual retreat, the quartet bring us back into an odd story of a group sea excursion, sung in the style of an old Irish sea-sick sailing ballad. There's a wee moral to the tale of the "Wilbert S. Pound" — when life upends you, sulking and being miserable makes it worse, but finding something to appreciate makes the time sail by. Pollyanna? Perhaps. Listening to the songs feels like a weekend retreat where you leave refreshed with renewed purpose and commitment, just before the reality of life crushes in.
The show’s diverse score, which ranges from 1960s Motown (“More Life”) to modern pop (“Give Me Your Attention”), features several moments where the plaintive, though still humorous, treatment of characters’ sexuality is apparent. Bowen’s “Dazzle Camouflage” is a paean to the struggles of a closeted adolescent. “The hours I spend holding hands with girls is equaled only by the hours I spend in my bedroom making my super hero action figures go at it,” he quips, before eventually declaring, “Keeping a secret is a full-time job and I am exhausted.”
Unlike other shows which deal with gay characters or themes (“La Cage aux Folles,” “Rent,” “The Normal Heart”), “Now. Here. This.” doesn’t draw its characters as overly political or flamboyant, and most certainly never ventures into camp territory. Instead, Bell and Blackwell say their aim was “just to write a human story with no specific agenda at all, other than just being honest,” with the gay elements being woven seamlessly, even matter-of-factly, into the show’s libretto.
"Now. Here. This." livestreaming through Sunday, July 11th. For tickets and information, please see www.morgan-wixson.org.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report