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A CurtainUp Review


The ensemble on  the cover of  the show CD
The ensemble on the cover of the show CD
As regular CurtainUp readers know I spend much of the summer months covering the Berkshire theater scene. My home is a five minute drive from the DeSisto School in Stockbridge, MA. Since Inappropriate is performed by members and graduates of the school's Theater Ensemble, based on the verse biographies students write during their graduation year, I probably should have been first in line to see it. Yet, knowing the boarding school's mission of providing a nurturing environment for troubled teens I was a bit leery that this might be a case of therapeutic performance art masquerading as a musical.

Reports from friends and readers persuaded me to catch up with the show during its final month on Theater Row. I'm glad I did. While the material co-conceived by the school's founder A. Michael DeSisto and Lonnie McNeil, is indeed an amalgam of much pain and youthful insecurity, Inappropriate is never self-indulgent psychobabble set to music. Instead it is an entertaining and touching musical collage. As musical productions go it's a small show -- 8 cast members without elaborate costume changes, 5 musicians, and simple staging (lighting designer Ryan Schmidt and set designer Shane Ballard give new meaning to the possibilities inherent in a few painted scrims and movable blocks). Small in size as it is, Inappropriate is big in all the ways that count -- energy, talent and heart.

The young men and women who deliver the fourteen numbers perform like seasoned pros. They are vigorous and sensitive interpreters of Michael Sottile's engaging score as well as agile dancers. The vignettes which frame each song range the gamut: from the pain of coping with divorcing parents, confusion about sexual identity and being born by artificial insemination, the lure of drugs and the joy of first love. Though the singers aren't relating their own histories a first-hand quality rings through their performances. Even the darkest stories are presented with such straightforwardness and feeling that by the time Liz and the rest of the Company belt out the uplifting "Everything That You Are" they've got you applauding everything they've done.

The current reprise of the show's limited run earlier this year was mounted as a tribute to Lonnie McNeil, the director who shepherded Inappropriate from idea to Off-Broadway production. The tragedy of McNeil's untimely death, combined with the exuberant young cast of unknowns and the gritty material, have prompted comparisons to Rent. (McNeil died of AIDS--which led to choreographer Ray Leeper and composer-lyricist Michael Sottile to jointly take the helm).

While understandable the link between the two shows is basically -- well-- inappropriate. Despite the fact that some of the numbers like "Mexico" are self-contained little dramas Inappropriate, unlike Rent, is not a book musical but a very moving, outstandingly performed biographical concert with a score which anyone who purchases the recently released CD (so far available only at the theater) will listen to often. Rather than to look at this as an Off-Broadway, Rent-a-like, enjoy it for what it is.

Before I close, it's worth noting that there were quite a few parents with teens in tow (especially fathers and sons) at the performance I attended. I would not recommend this as a family show, however, if the kids in the family are under fourteen. On the other hand older audiences need have no fears about the decibel level. Even with the performers wired with those ever proliferating ugly head mikes, the music is acceptable (and enjoyable) for even the most sensitive older ears.

Co-conceived Book by A. Michael DeSisto and Lonnie McNeil
Original Choreography and Direction by Lonnie McNeil Music and Lyrics by Michael Sottile
Directed by Ray Leeper (who's also choreographer) and Michael Scottile
With Mia Benenate, Averie Boyer, Josh Geyer, Liz Irwin, Jamie Ourisman, Diane Schwartz, Sarah Seckinger, Adam Shiftman
SetCostume Design: Shane Ballard
Lighting Design: S. Ryan Schmidt
Sound Design: David A. Arnold
Dramaturg: Deborah Klezmer
Musicians: Ben Butler, Richard Hammond, Steve Hass, Ann Marie Milazzo, Sasi Shalom
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
Theatre Row Theatre, 424 W. 42nd St. (9th/10th Avs) 279-4200
Limited run through 3/21/99; reopened for 11/23/99 - 01/30/2000
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 12/22/99 performance
Musical Numbers
Our World Within--Part 1/ The Company
Our World Within--Part 2 / The Company
Let Me Be The One/ Averie Boyer, Elizabeth Irwin and Company
Dear Dad/Diane Schwartz, Elizabeth Irwin, Sarah Seckinger and Mia Benenate Feels Good (Drugs)/ The Company
Real / Diane Schwartz and Company
A Good Boy / Josh Geyer and Company
1 Wonder / Averie Boyer, Elizabeth Irwin and
The Dream / Adam Shiffman and Company
Mexico/ Diane Schwartz and Jamie Ourisman
Kaleidoscope / The Company
Lost/ Avetie Boyer, Elizabeth Irwin and Company
Found--The Discovery/ The Company
Everything That You Are / Elizabeth Irwin and Company

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