Theater Evaluate: ‘The Outsiders’

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By Calvin S. Nelson

Belle wished rather more than this provincial life. Louisa simply wished rather more. Jack wished for the wide-open areas of Santa Fe. Jack’s mom (totally different Jack) wished quite a lot of issues. Now, Ponyboy Curtis will get to hitch musical theater’s lengthy record of aspiring, wanting hearts. They’re not all youngsters, however adolescence clearly lends itself to the stressed certainty that — as Ponyboy places it in his tackle the “I need” tune — “there’s a lot extra to life / Than what’s in entrance of me” — and lord is aware of puberty makes you emotional sufficient to begin wailing, melodically or in any other case. Maybe that’s why The Outsiders slides extra simply than is likely to be anticipated into musical kind. S.E. Hinton wrote the novel when she was solely 16, a high-school junior in Oklahoma about to develop into best-seller well-known, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film not solely starred child variations of a frankly absurd variety of future celebrities; it additionally helped launch the Brat Pack, whose members won’t have been Romeo and Juliet or Joan of Arc however have been definitely up there on historical past’s record of most well-known youngsters (or a minimum of individuals who performed youngsters on TV). The actual pangs and passions of being younger — and, particularly, younger and poor and in the midst of nowhere — are what The Outsiders is all about. The American musical, with the ache and drive of “I need” at its core, is nice for that.

And in its new musical kind — with a rating and lyrics by the folks duo Zach Likelihood and Jonathan Clay, often known as Jamestown Revival, together with Justin Levine — The Outsiders is taking an actual swing at being the strongest entry on this season’s wave of singer-songwriter outings on Broadway. We’re residing in a publish–Sara Bareilles age: Ingrid Michaelson, PigPen Theatre Co., Shaina Taub, and Anaïs Mitchell are all at present waving at one different from round Instances Sq.. However whether or not or not the identical individuals who make catchy pop data also can craft a stable rating is one other query. Likelihood, Clay, and Levine can, and if The Outsiders typically traffics, maybe unavoidably, in cliché, it makes up for it with the tenderness and muscle of not simply its songs however its staging and performances.

In Adam Rapp’s guide (additionally co-written with Levine), Ponyboy (Brody Grant) is our 14-year-old narrator, born and raised, as Hinton was, in Tulsa. To cite one other singer-songwriter, it’s a demise lure, it’s a suicide rap, and Ponyboy scribbles furiously in his pocket book, reads Dickens, idolizes Paul Newman, and goals of escape. It’s 1967 — we love a cuffed jean, an unfiltered cigarette, and a nickname — and Ponyboy and his two older brothers, Darrel and Sodapop, performed by Brent Comer and Jason Schmidt respectively, reside alone after the demise of their dad and mom in a automotive crash. (Facet word: There’s one thing endearing about all of the locations the place Hinton’s story, precocious as she was, indicators that it was written by a teen. What literary-leaning child hasn’t in some unspecified time in the future contemplated the mystique of orphandom?) Darry works, whereas Ponyboy and Soda spend most of their time with their chosen household, one of many city’s two rival gangs: the Greasers. “You’ve received Greasers and Socs,” Ponyboy sings to us, “that’s the way it’s all the time been / And that’s in all probability the way it’s all the time gonna go.” “Soc” is brief for “socialite” (the plural is 2 syllables, like cloches), so you may guess which gang comes from which facet of the tracks.

Since Ponyboy holds the literal pen and paper, it’s doubly his story. “You will have a present,” his brother Darry tells him, and the present can’t resist leaning into the “write your manner out” trope that’s fueled inky-fingered protagonists from Jo March to Alexander Hamilton. However The Outsiders is greatest on the within of its narrator’s body, when it embraces the group of its title. As a gaggle, the Greasers are a scrappy, lovable bunch with highly effective pipes and loads of slick strikes. Schmidt is a complete darling because the fortunately un-intellectual Sodapop: He’s a teddy bear inside a physique builder, and when he peels off his shirt early within the night, the whoops within the viewers are solely half as humorous because the dopey grin he cracks in response. With a transparent, plaintive voice and the hunched shoulders of worries past his years, Comer makes robust work out of what may very well be a thankless half, and Joshua Boone is particularly wonderful as his foil, the charismatic Dallas Winston. Rebellious Dally will get underneath accountable Darry’s pores and skin — on this adultless world, they’re the daddy figures competing for the youthful boys’ respect and love. However what neither Darry nor the remainder of the Greasers see till it’s too late is that Dally’s alpha swagger conceals wells not solely of actual kindness however of terror and despair. Boone makes positive we by no means miss the layers. His voice is attractive and managed, all of the extra so when it will get mushy — he nails each the propulsive first-act nearer “Run Run Brother” and its heartbreaking sequel tune, “Little Brother,” in Act 2. In a manner, he appears like a extra historic soul — some noble, doomed warrior of antiquity, trapped in Tulsa and soldiering towards the play’s sharpest tragedy.

There’s additionally a fem Greaser referred to as Ace, performed with spark by Tilly Evans-Krueger — Ace hadn’t been added to this system once I noticed the present, and whereas that’s happily been remedied since, it’s nonetheless too dangerous that Evans-Krueger isn’t pictured within the cuddle puddle on all of the manufacturing’s advertising supplies. Whether or not or not she exists in Hinton’s or Coppola’s worlds makes no distinction — right here, she and her frequent counterpart, the waggish Two-Bit (Daryl Tofa), dance like devils and tumble like acrobats. They’re an important a part of the Greaser household and of the present’s high-octane choreography by the brothers Rick and Jeff Kuperman. Together with director Danya Taymor, the Kupermans have constructed an exhilarating motion world for The Outsiders, particularly within the brutal “rumble” that goes down between the Socs and the Greasers on the present’s climax. With out giving an excessive amount of away, I’ll simply say that The Pocket book will get epically out-rained, and — working in militarily exact tandem with the flashes and crashes of Brian MacDevitt’s lights and Cody Spencer’s sound design — Taymor creates a spectacular ballet of violence. She’s always and compellingly repurposing the fundamental parts of the present’s gritty warehouselike set (its outdated tires, boards, and jungle-gym scaffolding by Tatiana Kahvegian and the design collective AMP), and each mid-rumble and elsewhere, she suspends time to nice impact. Moments of impression stretch into the molasses of slow-motion whereas frigid LEDs half-blind us; the actors’ our bodies float and arc by area earlier than smashing again into motion — choreographed in tight unison at one second, launched into obvious chaos within the subsequent. It’s an excellent trick: Not solely does it facilitate agile leaps into Ponyboy’s body narration — it additionally makes the hits land more durable than they ever might underneath the constraints of realism.

And there’s a lot of hitting in The Outsiders. From one angle, it’s a narrative about being born into violence and in search of a option to create fairly than destroy. Ponyboy and his associates and the merciless, insecure preps from throughout city beat the shit out of one another within the park between their neighborhoods as a result of “that’s the way it’s all the time been.” But it surely’s not simply Ponyboy who yearns for one thing else. Even Bob (Kevin William Paul), nastiest of the Socs and their khaki-wearing king, is credited with extra of a coronary heart than we ever get to see. “When it was solely you and me alone,” sings his erstwhile girlfriend, Cherry Valence (Emma Pittman), “I noticed a facet of you I want they’d recognized / Like a secret you would by no means share.” It’s exhausting to consider, and possibly we don’t consider it, however it nonetheless issues that she says it: Cherry additionally sees the craving and the intelligence inside Ponyboy. She’s perceptive, and compassionate at coronary heart, and thru her we get slightly glimpse into how the privileged perpetrators are, although it might not excuse them, additionally victims.

However The Outsiders’s most persecuted younger sufferer is undoubtedly Ponyboy’s greatest buddy, Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch), lovingly referred to as “Johnnycakes” by his associates. Slight and wounded trying, with the large darkish eyes and the hesitant gaze of a hunted animal, Lakota-Lynch’s Johnny is a bruised and hungry soul, filled with sweetness that’s by no means gotten to flourish — however which emerges in full glory in “Keep Gold,” the present’s ballad interpretation of the film’s most well-known line. The Outsiders has lengthy been a favourite for hypothesis about romantic undertones between its characters, and regardless of Hinton’s denial that anybody within the story is something aside from straight, there’s a delicacy within the musical’s method to Johnny that feels prefer it leaves issues open in a truthful manner. These are all children — who they’re is shifting each second, and what they haven’t been ready, or allowed, to articulate about themselves but is an unlimited wilderness. The tragedy lies in by no means with the ability to discover out.

The Outsiders is on the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

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