When not busy with his communications major/advertising minor, USC senior Brent Lomas has a passion for musical theater. Lomas currently serves as one of the artistic directors of SC’s Musical Theatre Repertory, which in January debuted a splendid production of Sunday In The Park With George. A finalist in the USC Jonathan Larson Songwriting Contest, Lomas is currently putting the finishing touches on the book, music, and lyrics of his very first musical, entitled Third Grade Reunion. This past weekend marked the show’s initial workshopping, to an audience of enthusiastic parents, friends, and supporters of musical theater.
While still a work in progress, Third Grade Reunion makes clear Lomas’ promise as a writer/composer, and provides a refreshingly new slant on an old topic, class reunions.
In this case, the 28-year-old reunion-goers are celebrating not (as might be expected) their 10 year high school reunion, but the 20th anniversary of the year they spent together as students in Mrs. Kim’s 3rd grade class.
At the heart of Lomas’ story is Kevin (Keith Barletta), whose childhood lie that his father was in the hospital caused unexpected and far-reaching consequences. The truth was, there was no father in Kevin’s home, and the lie was merely an excuse for not being able to get his dad’s signature on a permission slip. After having organized a recycling drive to earn money for Kevin’s supposedly ill father, Mrs. Kim (Courtney Anderson) was none too pleased to learn of Kevin’s deception.
Following 3rd grade, Kevin moved away, grew up, married, had a kid, and is now working a mundane job and estranged from his wife Judy. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and when surrounded by successful former classmates he hasn’t seen for 20 years, Kevin, who wants them to believe his life is great, claims to be a roller-coaster mogul (of all things). Nothing good came from the first lie, nor does the second lie bring Kevin anything but grief.
Further complicating the reunion for our antihero is Ramona (Casey Kalmenson), a 3rd grade classmate who has loved him from afar all these years, though she doubts that Kevin will even remember her. There’s also the beautiful April (Lauren Leigh Barker), who may have paid little attention to Kevin at age 8, but finds the handsome 28-year-old irresistible, or are those dollar signs in her eyes? And because things always come in threes, who should show up but Kevin’s estranged wife Judy (Jenn Brown), tired of Kevin’s go-nowhere life, but none too pleased to find hubby with not one but two women in pursuit.
Lomas’ musical moves back and forth in time, and we see the students (who also include Max, Jim, Kelly, and Sherry) as they were then and as they are now.
Musical highlights include Ramona’s solo in which she sings about “looking from the outside,” an ensemble number in which the adults reflect on the last 20 years and their wish to go back to before, a Kevin solo in which he expresses his desire to make his life great, and Kevin and Ramona’s duet of “Don’t Throw It Away.”
Lomas has created interesting situations that audience members of any age can relate to. His music and lyrics were beautifully performed by a talented cast of USC musical theater students, headed by an ingratiating Barletta as Kevin. Casey Kalmenson made for a nerdy yet charming Ramona, whose chemistry with Barletta made the audience root for the two former 3rd graders to become a 20somthing couple. Barker was a cute and sexy seductress as April, and Brown made Judy’s disenchantment with Kevin seem very real. All were up to the vocal demands of their roles, with Brown particularly strong in the voice department. Anderson did good work as Mrs. Kim, as did Jonathan Munoz-Proulx, Zack DeZon, Greta McAnany, and Taylor Allen, completing the 3rd grade class. Musical director Brian P. Kennedy’s vocal arrangements made group numbers sound particularly rich.
Natalie Peyser, so marvelous as Dot in Sunday In The Park With George, proved her directorial skill with Third Grade Reunion, making good use of the stage and eliciting all around fine performances from her cast. Ashley Strumwasser was assistant director, with props designed by Whitney Schmidt and Channing Cook serving as stage manager. The excellent musical ensemble was made up of Kennedy on piano, Kenneth Johnson on bass, and Christopher Carhart on drums.
Stronger hooks would give Lomas’ songs the “I left the theater humming” quality that great musicals possess, but the talent is most definitely there. Fewer but longer scenes would improve the show’s flow, and considering the audience’s investment in the Kevin/Ramona story, perhaps the ending could be rethought. Still, the mere fact that someone of Brent Lomas’ youth has created a full length original book musical of this quality is evidence that the future of musical theater is in good hands.
I look forward to seeing what’s coming up for Lomas (including the next incarnation of Third Grade Reunion) as well as MTR’s ambitious 2008-9 season of Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again and Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party.
May 4, 2008