Review: The Kids Are Better Than All Right in Trevor
An amazing young cast brings this funny and moving new musical to life off-Broadway at Stage 42.
For some teenagers, a big part of their lives revolves around music. For other teens with a certain je ne sais quoi, it's musical theater. And so it is with the fabulous, gay 13-year-old who's dances and sings across the stage in the hilarious, moving, and timely new tuner Trevor, now making an impressive New York premiere at Stage 42. Dan Collins (book and lyrics) and Julianne Wick Davis (music) have adapted Trevor from the similarly titled 1995 Academy Award-winning short written by Celeste Lecesne, who later went on to found the Trevor Project with the film's director Peggy Rajski and producer Randy Stone. And there's a lot to like about this toe-tapping version of Trevor's story: The young cast is extraordinary, the music is catchy, and the message is simple — love yourself, be yourself, and screw what other people think.
That message doesn't come easy for the theater-loving, Diana Ross-worshipping Trevor (superb 13-year-old actor Holden William Hagelberger). It's 1981 in an unnamed American suburb, and Trevor is lip-synching the theme song from Mahogany ("Do You Know Where You're Going To") alone in his bedroom. But his intrusive mother (Sally Wilfert), who is obsessed with the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, will have none of it, and Trevor's father (Jarrod Zimmerman) seems comfortably oblivious to his son's penchant for gay icons. Trevor, wearing a striped polo and relaxed-fit pants (costumes by Mara Blumenfeld), hangs out with nerdy kids Walter (a comical Aryan Simhadri) and Cathy (Alyssa Emily Marvin) at Lakeview Junior High (impressive set design by Donyale Werle), but the rest of the student body looks at him as just plain weird. Trevor has a bit too much panache even for his teachers' taste: He is excluded from the school's talent show because he wants to reenact the movie Fame — including all the female roles.
By chance, he's paired in gym class with jock and junior high heartthrob Pinky (Sammy Dell in an accomplished performance), who takes a shine to Trevor in the basketball-themed song "Horse," but Pinky's posse of friends has a hard time understanding why he gets along with this weirdo. Nevertheless, Pinky convinces them to let Trevor teach them a dance routine for the talent show ("One/Two," featuring a showstopping fantasy dance number choreographed by Josh Prince). Trevor interprets his handsome friend's kindness as something more ("Who I Should Be"), and when his true feelings are revealed to the whole school after his journal is stolen ("Your Life Is Over"), the students become a vicious band of bullies ("Invisible"), led by Pinky's friend Jason (Diego Lucano) and middle school meanie Mary (Echo Deva Picone). Pinky, humiliated by the implication that he too might be gay, delivers a final crushing blow, and Trevor no longer sees any reason to live ("Wrong"). But a chance encounter with a hospital worker (Aaron Alcaraz) shows him that he's not alone and that things can get better.
Marc Bruni directs the tense moments of Trevor's suicidal ideation with a sensitive hand, and Hagelberger, for his part, nimbly shifts from ebullient to despairingly bullied without missing a beat. Alyssa Emily Marvin deserves mention for her shining role as Cathy, Trevor's wannabe romantic friend who expresses her confusion about him in "What's Wrong With You?" The talented and underutilized Isabel Medina winningly plays the enlightened yet conflicted Frannie, who wants to defend Trevor but finds herself caught up in her affections for Pinky.
The unifying and altogether fabulous presence throughout, however, is Diana Ross, captivatingly portrayed by Yasmeen Sulieman. When Sulieman glides onstage in one of Trevor's fantasies and sings "It's My Turn" or "Upside Down" (Peter Kaczorowski's lighting design and Brian Ronan and Cody Spencer's sound design help give these sequences some Broadway glitz), we know Trevor is going to find his way through this tough time.
Trevor does conclude with an ending that seems a little too tidy and unrealistic: People rarely change their thinking as quickly as the parents and students do here. But to stress that aspect of the story is to miss the larger point. Like Trevor, I was 13 in 1981, and as a gay teen I was just as bewildered by my feelings and by hateful words as any other LGBTQ kid in the 1980s (society's viciousness become even more virulent during the ensuing AIDS crisis). While things are noticeably better for some young people today, Trevor's story is still all too common. If this musical can get a parent or friend to reach out to someone who's struggling, or can show a kid who's questioning who they are that they are not alone and that things do get better, then that's a big win for the theater.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.