Unless you were blessed with massive self-confidence, perfectly-timed puberty and at least three friends to share a table in the cafeteria, junior high may not be your fondest memory. For a 13-year-old boy obsessed with Diana Ross and attracted to another boy – a popular athlete no less – it’s an ordeal.
Meet Trevor, the title character of the new musical now onstage at Writers Theatre. Set in 1981, TREVOR captures the moment when the young hero first realizes that he is gay. Which happens to be in eighth grade. Among peers who don’t yet know who they are but who are quick to ridicule whatever someone else might be.
Youthful cast at Writers Theatre
Based on a 1994 Academy Award-winning short film, TREVOR has a book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis. Director Marc Bruni and choreographer Josh Prince, who have staged the show for a possible Broadway transfer, rely very little on technology and instead put their faith in a mostly youthful cast and basic production elements. It’s a pleasure to watch, especially as the actors move molded plastic classroom seats with such artful precision, you eagerly await the next formation.
Eli Tokash as Trevor is consistently endearing; Salisha Thomas has the charisma and pipes to pull off Trevor’s alter-ego Diana Ross. Imbuing smaller roles with flavor are Matthew Uzarraga as Trevor’s friend Walter who views his own sperm under a microscope and Tori Whaples as Cathy who takes out her orthodontic rubber bands in order to kiss Trevor.
TREVOR’s functional family
Trevor’s Middle American suburban home is a place where it’s okay to hang Diana Ross posters. Trevor’s family is functional, just not perceptive enough to grasp his inner turmoil. When Mom discovers a photo of a bare-chested man on a tractor under Trevor’s mattress, Dad does not respond with macho aggression. He and Mom send Trevor to Tastee Freez with Father Joe for ice cream and a talk.
With a pleasant score and droll libretto, TREVOR remains faithful to the quirky charm of its source. For the record, that’s a monologue by James Lecesne that became the short film TREVOR which eventually inspired The Trevor Project, a national resource for LGBTQ youth. All this attests to the effectiveness of a gentler approach to a troubling issue. But what works well in a 20-minute film does not lead to an entirely satisfying full-length musical.
For this viewer, TREVOR gives too little evidence of the anguish that leads Trevor to question whether he deserves to live at all. Young teens, including many who grow into caring adults, have a great capacity for cruelty. But in TREVOR, they lack the sharp teeth needed to make us feel a humiliating bite. As a result, Act II’s darker plot developments start to feel fabricated to achieve the show’s larger thematic purpose.
Pure joy of theater
What is abundantly present in TREVOR is the pure joy of theater. For those with tweens (8-12) in their lives, this show could introduce them to a musical’s ability to combine great fun and serious messaging. TREVOR makes a compelling case for the next generation to put their screens aside and give musicals a try – whether from the stage or the seats of their school auditorium. For that alone, Writers Theater’s TREVOR serves a noble purpose.
Now through September 17
Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30 PM
Saturdays at 3:00 & 7:30 PM
Sundays at 2:00 & 6:00 PM
325 Tudor Court
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: an excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago.
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.