Music & lyrics: by Jeff Bowen. Book by: Hunter Bell & Susan Blackwell. At: Rivendell Theater, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. Tickets: BrownPaperBox.org; $25. Runs through: Aug. 21
Brown Paper Cox Company presents Now. Here. This., by composer Jeff Bowen, who wrote the popular [title of show] musical. Reviews like this usually have some sort of story hook to tie everything together. In this one, the story hinges on a museum geek ( Nick Shoda ) who wants to share his love of this planetarium/natural history museum with his friends. As they see the different exhibits, they sing songs about love, growing up, and their relationships with other people and the world.
The negative part about the book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell is that they create really annoying friends for him. One girl ( Neala Barron ) is always on the phone doing business, The other guy ( Matt Frye ) is busy looking for the cafeteria and the other girl ( Anna Schutz ) is playing on her smart phone. If they were my friends I'd go to the museum without them or leave them there.
The songs in this show are universally relatable but it's definitely written by someone in his or her late 40s/early 50s; I'm not sure the millennials will get references to Ed Grimley, the TV show Paper Dolls or Lola Falana. I especially liked the song "Members Only," about how, as a youth, you will buy clothes to fit in and how when you get older you shudder at the fashion choices ( Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans, Members Only jackets, acid washed jeans etc. ). "That'll never be me," about self doubts, is quite moving. The emotional "Golden Palace" regarding creativity really resonates. "That makes me hot" is an entertaining look at embarrassing moments that happen to everyone. "Dazzle Camouflage" shows a gay kid avoiding bullying by being funny. Overall, it's kind of like an adult Schoolhouse Rock, about emotions. Like that comparison, some songs are better than others.
The cast is terrific. Neala Barron wrings emotion out of her character which otherwise is written as annoying. Matt Frye ( my favorite here ) is very funny in all the songs and, when he has a chance to be emotional, he flips on a dime from funny to tears. He's really good. Anna Schutz is our belter in the group and I really enjoyed her performance. No one wants someone singing loudly in his or her face in a small theater, but she found great balance. Nick Shoda has the geeky charm to sell his character and the bad premise. Overall, go see the talented cast but the musical revue is really uneven.