Does your upcoming 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, or 50th High School Reunion fill you with excitement and joy … or does the mere thought of attending inspire terror and dread? Either way, Marc Ellis, Michael Lange, and David M. Matthews’ tune-filled, feel-good musical Reunion, now getting its World Premiere at the NoHo Arts Center, is one invitation you’ll want to accept.
Yes, its show-opening title number (“This is our High School Reunion. We’re together again to remember way back when.”) is rather a tad obvious, and generally speaking, subtlety and nuance aren’t Reunion’s strong suits. Still, the 40something archetypes in Ellis, Lange, and Matthews’ book are likely to remind you of your own high school friends and enemies, and there may even be one that inspires a bit of “Hey, that’s me!” recognition.
• Critics’ darling/secretly pseudonymous bestselling romance novelist Elliot (David Babich)
• Elliot’s former fellow nerd turned hotshot DUI attorney David (Michael Gabiano)
• Men’s fashion design star Gordon (Christopher Youngsman)
• Dave and Elliot’s “The Specs” high school bandmate Tony (Bradley Kuykendall)
• Tummy-tucked/collagen-lipped class minx Margot (Julia Marie Buis)
• Star quarterback/locker-room bully Jack (Jeffrey Rockwell)
• Jack’s long-suffering classmate/wife Sharon (Janna Cardia)
Conspicuously absent from the above list is Elliot’s high school crush Amelia Lorenzo, though a glance at the program (the role is shared by Kim Reed as Adult Amelia and Ali Axelrad as Young Amelia) suggests that she will show up to either fulfill Elliot’s high school hopes or dash them to smithereens. (I’ll give you one guess as to which it’s going to be.)
With nearly two-dozen songs packed into just over two hours plus intermission, Reunion is all about the music, and since almost every character gets at least one showcase number, we end up knowing them all quite well through pop melodies, fun lyrics, and boy-band/girl-group backup that make this reviewer wish an original cast recording were already available for download.
Dave sings about his DUI “Lawyer World” (“There’s no such thing as a guilty plea. It’s all about my fat retainer fee.”) as celebrity mug shots stare down from above.
Shrink Janet explains her philosophy in “It’s Psychology.” (“No matter how you’re messed up, depressed or really pissed, I can fix you over time. Trust me, I’m a therapist.”)
Jack, Tony, and Gordon celebrate their locker room towel-snapping prowess in “Snap It.” (“To the untrained eye, we were dancing in the shower, but when you analyze it, we’re talking penis power.”)
Sharon, Patty, and Margot drink a toast to the restorative powers of dry white wine in “Chardonnay.” (“When our guys are watching porn and we wish our kids were never born, we just reach for that bottle of Chardonnay.)
And though as song titles go, “African-American Students” may be one of the clunkiest ever, Janet and Wayne belt it to the rafters (“We were the only two African-American students at Frogs Neck High!”) and you don’t have to be black to find yourself singing along.
Meanwhile amidst all these hijinks, Elliot pines over the girl who got away (and whom he has never been able to forget) in the exquisite “Watching Her Breathe,” even as the object of his decades-year-long crush frets that because of a rain-delayed flight and a faulty rental car GPS, she may never make it to the reunion in time.
As for those of you who may be wondering if every single member of the Class Of ’85 has turned out straight, Act Two offers the ironic delights of Gordon’s “Nobody Knew” (I’m guessing at least some of them knew) and a surprise announcement that had me wiping away tears.
Broadway legend Kay Cole’s competent direction and her inspired choreography add to the evening’s delights, particularly since it’s hard to imagine a finer cast than the one assembled on the NoHo Arts Center stage. (Eleven of the twelve are members of Actors Equity thanks to the endangered Los Angeles 99-seat plan.)
Top honors go to leading man Babich, who takes advantage of the rare opportunity for an over-40 character type to play romcom hero and invests Elliot with abundant appeal (and terrific singing chops to match).
Youngsman’s dazzler of a Gordon along with the perfectly-matched gems that are Reed and Axelrad’s twin Amelias are standouts as well.
Add to the above the dynamic Brown, the bubbly Buis, the fiery Cardia, and the engaging Mayes among the ladies and the genial Gabiano, the peppy Kuykendall, the vigorous Rockwell, and the towering Smith among the men and you’ve got one all-around sensational cast. (Alternates Tom Andrew, Jan Broberg, Parnell Damone Marcano, and Shari Washington Rhone perform on November 29 and December 9.)
The entire ensemble benefits vocally from composer/co-lyricist/co-book writer Ellis’s musical direction. (If only budget constraints didn’t have them singing along to canned karaoke tracks.)
Scenic designer Joel Daavid gives Reunion a colorful, party-decorated backdrop, one that morphs quickly into various locales. Matthew Richter lights both Daavid’s set and costume designer Mylette Nora’s character-defining reunion-wear with pizzazz. Vocals and instrumentals are expertly mixed by sound designers Drew Dalzell and Alex Mackyol of Diablo Sound.
Yee Eun Nam’s topnotch high-school-video projection design features “younger selves” Brooke Brewer, John Devereaux, Richie Ferris, Jennifer Kranz, Josey Montana McCoy, Sarah Miller-Crews, Erin Mulvey, Nic Olsen, Richy Storrs, and Adam von Almen.
Reunion is produced by Adrienne Blackman, Steve Hartman & Michael Blackman, Blackhart Productions, and Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners. Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners, is associate producer. Tiffany Thomas is stage manager. Kevin Tamay is assistant stage manager.
With one new musical after another focusing on the lives of Millennials, Reunion is that rarity, a show in which Generation X gets to take center stage. (And since the year these high schoolers graduated is never actually specified in the script, Reunion could even be cast with Boomers.) As such, it could easily become a regional and community favorite.
In the meantime, Reunion is entertaining crowds of all ages in NoHo. Though I have no intention of attending my own next high school reunion, I’m indeed glad I went to this one.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
November 20, 2105
Photos: Michael Lamont