Trevor: The Musical—the best After School Special you'll ever see | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Trevor: The Musical—the best After School Special you'll ever see 

A gay teen lets Diana Ross be his guide in a world premiere from Writers Theatre.

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click to enlarge Eli Tokash

Eli Tokash

Michael Brosilow

Trevor is in big trouble. Any 13-year-old is at risk of pariahhood, of course. Pubescence is cruel. But with his jazz-hands dance moves, gym-class cluelessness, fey mannerisms, and full-out idolatry of Diana Ross, Trevor's got FRESH VICTIM written all over him. What's more, it's 1981: nobody's giving anti-bullying seminars or gender diversity workshops. Kids at mythical suburban Lakeview Junior High have only two categories available to them: normal and weird. And weird is lonely. On the advice of the Diana in his head, Trevor attempts to negotiate the caste system on his own terms.

Given our current, charged social and political climate, you might expect a story like Trevor's to be told with utmost earnestness, as a wandering-in-the-wilderness saga, full of pain, terror, and malicious ignorance. That's not the approach Dan Collins and Julia Wick Davis take with Trevor: The Musical, based on a 1994 short film and getting its world premiere now in an entertaining production at Writers Theatre. Far from it. Nobody beats our boy to a pulp or toys with his sanity or douses him with pig's blood a la Carrie, and the technology doesn't yet exist to troll him online. Even Trevor's darkest night of the soul has an upside and a comic twist. Although idiosyncratic in the details, his coming of age fits neatly within the bounds of conventional adolescent suffering.

Which, oddly enough, may be the show's greatest virtue. Trevor's diva-ish preoccupations and dawning awareness that he might be gay are treated as no more or less alarming than any of the hundreds of revelations kids have about themselves while growing up—it's just that his involve more sequins. What's happening to Trevor, Collins and Davis seem to hope we'll understand, is in no way aberrant and not necessarily dire. In fact, it's normal.

But that assumption of normality also happens to be Trevor's greatest weakness, because it reduces the stakes.

Our hero is already flirting with an amorphous sort of alienation when we first meet him, knowing only that (a) he doesn't fit in with his TV-mesmerized parents and (b) the way forward is to emulate Diana and fulfill his "golden dream"—which is to say, become a major pop star. We get to (c) very soon thereafter, when, hanging out with best pal Walter, Trevor finds he isn't aroused by the women in an underwear catalog. It's the men's page at the back that he can't stop looking at.

Since Diana was discovered at a talent show, Trevor has decided to enter the one at school. But the teacher in charge, Mrs. Kerr, bumps him because he plans to act out Fame, performing all the roles himself, including those of the women (Trevor: "You can't do Fame without Coco! She has the best songs." Mrs. Kerr: "Well I don't know if everyone would understand that.") Frustrated but not defeated, Trevor tries to convince Lakeview's amiable lunk—i.e., lug + hunk—of a football star, Pinky Faraday, that the team should abandon their annual talent-show rite of dancing around in pink tutus and put themselves in his Bob Fosse-esque choreographic hands instead. Bizarrely, Pinky agrees and gets the team behind him. Meanwhile, Trevor's falling in love.

As I watched all this unfold, I was primed to flinch in expectation of that awful, inevitable moment where Trevor's hopeful motion would meet an unmovable object and all hell would break loose. And that happens, after a fashion, when a private notebook gets a public airing. Yet, at least in this staging by Marc Bruni, the fallout seems all too containable, and the flinch takes on some of the properties of a shrug. With its smooth tempo and easy resolutions, Trevor can feel like an After School Special.

Albeit the very best After School Special you ever saw. The cast features a large contingent of talented young people led by Eli Tokash's ever wry but resilient Trevor. Building on textual hints that Pinky is more than he lets on, Declan Desmond never lets the character turn into a stereotypical jock (which makes it all the more disappointing that Collins's book ultimately reduces him to that for the sake of a single sharp line). Tori Whaples is endearing as Cathy, Trevor's would-be girlfriend, whose thoughts run far ahead of her child's body; likewise Matthew Uzzaraga, as Walter. Eloise Lushina has the right mix of Chloë Grace Moretz and Lucretia Borgia as Mary, Lakeview's arbiter of status. As for the production's Diana Ross, Salisha Thomas doesn't look the least bit like her, but that doesn't much matter when she sings.  v

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