At the Writers Nichols Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Glencoe –“Trevor the Musical” is the story of a 13-year old boy who discovers he is gay. The show, receiving its world premiere at the Writers Theater, originated as a short motion picture that won a 1994 Academy Award. Leaving the Writers, I was assessing how much of the credit for this superb musical belongs to the writing-composing team and how much to the stunning production. In the end, who cares? However the credit is distributed, “Trevor” is a brilliant slice of relevant entertainment.
“Trevor” is set in 1981 in a middle class community called Lakeview. Trevor is a high energy lad who loves the theater and worships at the altar of Dianna Ross, who weaves in and out of the story in Trevor’s imagination. Trevor lives in a typical teenage world of peer pressure, bullying, and barely understood sexual feelings. Being 1981, being gay is a shameful secret.
Trevor’s outlet for his sexual sensations are expressed in illicit magazine pictures of men in underwear and in his private notebook, which falls into the hands of his classmates and leads to ridicule and hostility. In the early scenes, there is an almost sitcom innocence to Trevor’s dilemma. Then the world around him, in the form of clueless adults and snickering schoolmates, overwhelms him. The generally perky and humorous story darkens as the boy is driven to a suicide attempt.
The show ends on an upbeat note that has a whiff of wishful thinking about it. The story has been called “sweet,” which is fair enough. This isn’t a cynical, adult, and high strung work like “The Boys in the Band,” a play of the late 1960’s that shocked many people with its inside look at the gay world. “Trevor” is gentler, and more heartbreaking
The story (book by Dan Collins) takes place almost entirely within the teenage world. The few adult characters (Trevor’s parents, a priest, a teacher) are a well-meaning but clueless lot when it comes to dealing with the boy’s problems. Trevor is on his own, surrounded by peers who have their own anxieties. His chief nemesis is a classmate named Jason (Reilly Oh), who mocks Trevor’s otherness. Trevor admires a young jock classmate named Pinky Faraday (Declan Desmond), who ultimately turns on him, writing him a hateful note that includes the humiliating word “fairy.”
The score by Julliane Wick Davis (music) and Collins (lyrics) steers clear of the viciousness and overt cruelty portrayed in a drama like “The Laramie Project.” The music is bouncy and the lyrics clever. Director Marc Bruni keeps the youngsters on the move in small groups and in ensembles, choreographed nimbly by Josh Prince.
Which brings us to Eli Tokash, who plays Trevor in a performance so brilliant that one wonders how any production could dare take the stage without him in the title role. To begin with, the actor is on stage virtually every minute, singing and dancing and conveying a personal world spiraling out of control. Tokash brings it all home with a vitality and an understanding that would dazzle in an actor triple his age.
Tokash is surrounding by an extraordinary group of young talents. Tori Whaples just graduated from the 8th grade but she almost steals her scenes with Trevor as Cathy, a plucky pig tailed girl bravely trying to secure her place in her world. Matthew Uzarraga is outstanding as Trevor’s best friend (for a while) dealing with tumultuous inner feelings of his own. Maya Lou Hlava is convincingly nasty as another of Trevor’s tormentors. Salisha Thomas is first rate as Diana Ross, wearing the glitzy Ross wardrobe and belting her songs in Diana Ross style. But everyone is good, and best of all, for the most part they all looked and acted like teenagers, essential to the credibility of the story.
Among the adults special mention goes to Jhardon DiShon Milton for his low-keyed and sympathetic cameo appearance as a hospital attendant who soothes Trevor in the boy’s time of greatest emotional need. Jerrod Zimmerman has a hilarious scene as a priest trying smugly to explain the birds and the bees to the perplexed lad.
Donyale Werle’s set design is built on two levels and conveys the location changes with props carried or slid and off the stage. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes reinforce the 1981 look of the story. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting sharpens the physical focus on one scene after another. Ray Nardelli is the sound designer and Matt Deitchman directs the excellent off stage 10-piece orchestra.
So what is the future of “Trevor” beyond what should be a sold out run at the Writers Theater? The story is certainly accomplished enough to look to a New York City opening, though in an off Broadway venue rather than a cavernous Broadway theater. For regional theaters casting will be prickly. The role of Trevor is exceptionally demanding. And the actor needs to look 13-ish and not a 25-year old passing himself off as a schoolboy. The same holds true for the other teenagers who flesh out the ensemble. But there must be more than one Eli Tokash out there. The bottom line is that “Trevor” is an extremely accessible musical that deals intelligently with a serious issue in our society without taking to the soapbox. It deserves to spread its pleasures throughout the country.
The show gets a rating of 4 stars.