Robert Frost: beloved poet, timeless philosopher, American icon … inducer of Ritalin-withdrawal fantasies?
For the third and final time, the award-winning high school performers of the Cappies National Theater took to the stage at James Madison High School — this time for the world premiere of the Frost-inspired musical comedy “The Yellow Wood.”
Written by recent N.Y.U. graduates Danny Larsen and Michelle Elliott, “The Yellow Wood” follows a day in the life of Adam Davies, a 17-year-old, half-Korean skateboarder with Attention Deficit Disorder (played by Kevin Manship) who has one mission: memorize Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” before sixth period English. Along the way, Adam’s hyperactive tendencies take charge — Tiki dancers jumping on desks, an animated algebra problem — until best friend Casserole (Bryan Terrill) and a girl (Chelsea Brown) carry him off into a yellow-wood-laden fantasy upon his own road less traveled. The end result? Not a memorized poem, but rather, Adam’s finding of a lover, realization of self, and acceptance of his disability.
With only three weeks of preparation time, CNT’s staging was noticeably rough around the edges — shaky notes and muffled microphones were frequent — but what this ensemble lacked in finesse, it made up in heart.
It started with Manship’s performance. Part-lost soul, part-whiny teenager, part-erratic hippie, Manship proved an endearing Adam, emulating the qualities of an aloof ADD teenager admirably.
As his romantic interest, Chelsea Brown brought an intellectual grace to the artsy Willis. Somewhere between Jodie Foster and Tina Fey, her performance finds a home and it works. Tender duets like “I Agree” and “Come to Me” showed off Brown’s roaring soprano.
And Bryan Terrill as aloof sidekick Casserole was always strong. Energetic, enthusiastic and precise, Terrill was an excellent companion for Manship, providing comic relief without neglecting his character’s more warm-hearted moments.
Also hilarious were Hayley Rushing, as the crabby and decrepit Ms. Geography; Will Cromartie, sporting a popped collar and spiky hair as the high school popularity king; and Emily Mackey, biting and catty. Chris Adams was consistently funny as the uptight school librarian, and Erin McCamley made strong impact as a soft-spoken Korean child in “On a Roof in Korea.”
Technical aspects were simple and effective. Costumes were well-constructed, ranging from grass skirts to tie-dye T-shirts to cheerleading uniforms. Sets, which included movable lockers and yellow-tree cutouts, highlighted performers but were never distracting. The seven-member orchestra occasionally overpowered vocalists but always hit the notes.
Overcoming a little roughness here and there, the performers of the Cappies National Theater proved what they came to prove — that raw ambition and talent are alive and well among the nation’s youth. Kudos to C.N.T. for three weeks of hearty laughs, touching drama and outstanding performances.