There’s some exciting news for High School Musical fans who’ve moved on to higher education.  College Musical has arrived!  Well, in actual fact the show in question is entitled The Green Room, but in many ways it’s like a PG-13 post-graduation spin-off of the über popular Disney franchise. Like HSM, this enjoyable world premiere features young, ready-for-their-close-up triple-threats who spend more time singing, dancing, and pairing up than doing their assignments. Then again, who would pay to see a show about homework?

The Green Room focuses on a quartet of talented undergrads at the Midwestern St. Norhoff’s College, all of whom have Broadway stars in their eyes. There’s pert blonde Anna (Stephanie Burkett Gerson), her geeky aspiring playwright brother Cliff (Michael J. Willett), Anna’s boy-next-door boyfriend John (Zane Gerson), and the diva who floats John’s boat, a bold and brassy bundle of energy named Divonne (Jessica Gisin).  (Clearly, The Green Room exists in an alternate universe in which boys like Cliff and John pursue musical theater to have sex with girls. On the other hand, it might just be a phase for at least one of them.)

The show gets its title from the room where actors hang out while awaiting their entrances. It’s also the place where we first meet our would-be stars as well as the title of the first of fifteen catchy songs (music and lyrics by Chuck Pelletier), each of which receives a brief set-up in C. Stephen Foster and Rod Damer’s cute, episodic book. “The green room,” sings Anna, “like a guardian angel, prepares you for the people in those seats. The green room helps you to believe the world you are creating to believe in me.”

Anna, Divonne, and John consider themselves the drama department’s Three Musketeers and are not immediately open to the idea of becoming a foursome, but in “We’ve Got Style” they decide to make an exception for Freshman Cliff, on condition that “if we are going to spend our time knowing you, don’t sit there blowing your smoke up our asses.”  (Yes, indeedy, this show is PG-13-rated.)   Soon, John and Cliff are doing some male bonding (strictly hetero) in “Bachelor’s Anthem,” a musical salute to the single life. 

St. Nordoff’s being a Presbyterian college, John and Anna have yet to know each other in the Biblical sense, and though John craves more than what Anna has been doling out, much much more, Anna is in no rush to take things further than goodnight kisses. In “What Do I Think Of Me?” she sings, “What is it I want now? What is it you need? I can’t let my defenses down to every man I see.”  What oh what is a good girl to do?

Then again, John is not just “every man” to Anna, nor is Cliff to Divonne, as soon becomes clear when Miss D-for-Diva informs her boyfriend that she has taken an EPT test and the results have come back positive.  It takes a few seconds for Cliff to grasp what this means, but once he does, he is elated to learn that the condom broke.  “Nothing Can Stop My Boys” is not only the title of the song he sings to celebrate impending fatherhood, but also the way he feels about this proof positive of his masculinity. “I have got the balls of young Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poise,” he belts out proudly.  “I produce a crowd of sperm cells tough as The Dirty Dozen.  Nothing can stop my boys.”  Not only that, but “it’s elating, no more debating, whether or not I’m queer.”  As if!

Other musical highlights include the Bible Musical spoof “Don’t Try To Part The Water” (sung a cappella in perfect four-part harmony), “The All-You-Want-To-Do-Is-Do-Me Blues,” Cliff and Anna’s bluesy lament that their intendeds are only interested in doing the nasty, and the 1950s doo-wop inspired “Good Lookin’ Girls.”

Under Stephanie A. Coltrin’s snappy direction, The Green Room’s four stars deliver High School Musical IV-ready performances with a bit of Saved For The Bell (The College Years) thrown in for good measure. That is to say, their performances are sketched in broad, sitcom strokes, but undeniably enjoyable.

As Divonne, the dynamic powerhouse Gisin gets to sing The Green Room’s standout number, the award-winning 2005 Musical Song Of The Year “It’s All About Me,” a terrific showcase for the bubbly comedienne with the big big voice. “It’s All About Me” is about all the starring roles Divonne didn’t get and all the minor roles she did get—and made into star vehicles for herself. For example, she was Nun #7 in The Sound Of Music. Never heard of her? According to Divonne, she’s the nun who steals the distributor wires of the Nazi’s black car thereby enabling Maria and family to escape.

Gerson and Gerson, married in real life, do winning work as John and Anna. Zane is a tall, lanky All American Boy with a rich baritone which melds beautifully with his castmates’ voices in four-part harmony songs like the Act One finale “In The End.”  Stephanie looks ready to play Sandy in Grease with her blonde girl next door sweetness, which (like Sandy) she gets to abandon, albeit briefly, when she dons a dominatrix’s black leather micro-mini dress for “I Want To Go To Extremes.” And wow can this soprano belt out those high notes.

Finally, there is on-the-fast-track-to-Broadway Willett, moving from Disciple in Jesus Christ Superstar to leading man here, a role which he assumes with absolute confidence and can’t-be-learned star quality. Besides being cute as a button and a terrific physical comedian, Willett has as gorgeous a tenor as you’re likely to hear, which he shows off to impressive effect in the eleventh-hour ballad “It Comes Easy.”  
The four sensational singers are given excellent backup by Ron Snyder on piano, Matt North on drums, Clint Davidson on bass, and Peter Rhee on guitar, with musical direction by Pelletier.  Dancer extraordinaire turned choreographer Karl Warden gives the four college friends some fun, pizzazzy steps to execute. Set designer Christopher Beyries and properties designer T. Theresa Scarano have created a believable college green room with fridge, microwave, sofa, pay phone, etc.  Ric Zimmerman’s lighting design and Kevin Goold’s sound design are both first-rate. Christa Armendariz’s costumes nicely reflect the four friends’ varying personalities.

In these tight economic times, The Green Room’s small cast and simple set requirements make it a perfect choice for regional and community theaters, though high schools would likely find it more than a bit risqué, with lyrics like “These women from Venus they coax us and wean us then tell us our penis won’t do” likely to cause conniptions in the PTA.

All in all, The Green Room is an entirely enjoyable musical bonbon, and an excellent showcase for four very talented young performers you’ll likely be hearing much more from in the future.

Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 170 Pier Avenue, Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach.

–Steven Stanley
May 26, 2009
Photos: Alysa Brennan

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