Inspired by the novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 movie of the same name, the events are largely shown through the eyes of an orphaned teenager, Ponyboy (Brody Grant) in 1960’s Tulsa, Oklahoma. Raised by his older brother, Darrel (Ryan Vasquez), Ponyboy spends most of his time hanging with a local gang of teens known as the Greasers. The group are rivals with a gang of preppy youths, the Socs, and their encounters often result in violence.
Director, Danya Taymor, wonderfully stages each scene, combining style and grit. Her work with the crew, including the set from AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian, choreography from Rick and Jeff Kuperman, lighting from Isabella Byrd, projections from Tal Yarden and costumes from Sarafina Bush present a Tulsa that’s as cool as it is threatening. Those contrasting tones are felt throughout the runtime of the show.
Visually striking sequences from Taymor and the crew increase the higher the stakes raise in the narrative. Creativity that these artists display always feels linked to the situations happening onstage.
Just as important to the tale is book writer Adam Rapp and songwriters Jamestown Revival (folk duo members, Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine.
Rapp wisely doesn’t sanitize the adaptation, and maintains an edge with violence, casual swearing and discussions of serious topics such as abortion and loss. Even with heavier moments, Rapp knows when to infuse levity, humor and moments of hope. While the material keeps this from being kid-friendly, parents and teachers should know there is nothing depicted that wouldn’t be featured in a PG-13 film.
Clay, Chance and Levine generally find a balance between retro sounding crowd pleasers and intimate character-driven musical numbers. Despite consistently terrific original music, some of the songs in the first half of Act One, particularly “Grease Got a Hold” and “Great Expectations” do feature a bit too much on the nose and heavy-handed lyrics. Fortunately, the words do get progressively stronger and more nuanced.Every song is played beautifully by the orchestra, which is led expertly by conductor/keyboardist/guitarist, Matt Hinkley.
All of the performers are perfectly suited to their roles, and Grant plays Ponyboy with a mix of confidence and vulnerability that is expressed in his acting and singing. Grant and Sky Laokota-Lynch as Ponyboy’s close friend, Johnny (his vocals during the song, “Stay Gold,” are especially moving), portray genuinely good people who happen to be caught up with dangerous adolescents.
Two of the biggest standouts are the actors playing characters who are very influential to Ponyboy. Vasquez displays intimidation and compassion as Darrel, and Da’Von T. Moody is charismatic and at times sad as Greaser member, Dallas. Though the Oklahomans are deeply flawed, audiences can’t help but care about their fates, because of the co-stars’ crooning and authentic performances.
As a World Premiere musical, The Outsiders works as a powerful coming-of-age story. The emotional plot will strike a chord equally with teens and adults.
[box] Show times are Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]