Two things distinguish Loveville High, a new musical that takes place on prom night in a high school in Loveville, Ohio. First: The cast of 13 is comprised of some of the most talented young theater stars in New York, several of them also currently performing on Broadway — Ali Stroker (Tony nominee for Oklahoma!), Kathryn Allison (Aladdin), Andrew Durand (Ink), Gizel Jiménez (Wicked), and Ryann Redmond (Frozen) — and they sing the hell out of the lively, often witty songs by David Zellnik (Yank!) and Eric Svejcar (Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.) How is it possible to be in two shows at the same time? That’s the second aspect of this musical that’s unusual: It has no choreographer, no set designer…no stage. It’s a podcast.
“Loveville High: A Prom In Nine Musical Podcasts” launched its first episode in January and completed what it’s calling its first season in April. A live version of the show, “Loveville Prom – In Concert,” will be performed on June 17 at York Theatre Company, with some of the original cast members singing the songs without any of the dialogue. Running time will be 70 minutes and tickets are free.
The full podcast is 100 minutes. I listened to it all at once, trying to consider it like a conventional stage musical. And in many ways it isconventional, indeed derivative. It’s hard to conceive of a completely original musical about prom night, and this one has echoes of The Prom, and Mean Girls and Be More Chill – sometimes all at the same time!
Chass (Redmond), who’s eight months pregnant and hiding in the coatroom, sings “Pregnant at a Prom” which feels inspired by Be More Chill’s “Michael in the Bathroom” but done with humor. The song includes the lyrics
I’m hiding while some unseen girls
Sounded like a scene I’d seen in Mean Girls
Chass sings this song in the third scene/episode, which feels emblematic of all that works and doesn’t work in “Loveville High.” Each scene is meant to be a self-contained love story, though the scenes interconnect, and the characters overlap. Chass is singing in the coat room to Jendrix (Mason Alexander Park),who is her genderqueer friend and prom date, whom we had just met in the previous scene, flirting and kissing and singing with Cory (Isaac Cole Powell, Once On This Island.)
Suddenly the coatroom has a visitor Zeke (Jay Armstrong Johnson, On The Town), who is the father of Chass. He wants to be in the life of Chass and their child. But Chass doesn’t want any of it, as we learn in this humorous dialogue:
Chass: I’m giving her up for adoption and going off to college and the sweet-talking dumb jock is not gonna be part of that picture!
Zeke: Wow, that’s a lot of mixed messages
Chass: How is that mixed messages!?!
Jendrix: Should I go?
Chass rues the day that the toilet in her home flooded, because her father hired Zeke (the son of a plumber) to fix it. But Zeke recalls what happened far more fondly. He sings:
I remember that day the pipes all burst
Love flowed out so fine, so unrehearsed…
You say we’re through and it’s the worst
Zeke talks about a ring (he presumably shows it to her) and he says he wants to marry her. But then her water bursts. He calls an ambulance, and then says:
“Wow I just realized. I am so not ready to be a dad. You’re right about adoption!” But could he go out with her afterwards?
This is charming, funny and well sung. The twist in the tale makes it feel more original. But almost all the other scenes have similar twists. The cumulative effect of the nine scenes of “Loveville High” is a feeling that the characters are the inventions of a creative team that is trying too hard to be original. The characters don’t feel so much like living, breathing human beings, as types: There is the couple from the other side of the tracks, the nerd couple, the lesbian, the bros, the fat girl, a goth girl who’s mourning her dead boyfriend…
Zellnik and Svejcar are hardly alone in treating people in high school with such broad strokes, and it’s likely that many theatergoers (podcast listeners?) appreciate the craft of the songs enough not even to notice. My favorite song is probably a lively reggae-infused You’re The One, sung by Troy Iwata (Be More Chill) in which we slowly realize that he’s singing not to his girlfriend but to his cell phone, where he is texting with 22 different women.
It’s also possible that the stories feel more realistic when listened to one at a time. Audio theater might be on its way towards becoming a new genre. Maybe it’s already here. This is Not A Theatre Company began several years ago creating site-specific pod plays to listen to while riding the N train and the Staten Island Ferry.
Audible is turning any number of stage plays into “audiobooks” on their app – Harry Clarke with Billy Crudup, Feeding the Dragon written and performed by Sharon Washington, Neil LaBute’s All the Ways I Say I Love You with Judith Light. Indeed are producing new plays for the stage for the purpose of reproducing them solely as sound.