Friday, June 24, 2011

A Surprisingly Good Musical about Group Therapy

Group: A Musical. Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble. Stella Adler Theatre. 6/23/11.

I must admit, I wasn't too excited about going to a new musical about group therapy. In fact, the only reason I went was because friends of mine had met the playwright, Adam Emperor Southard, at Hollywood Fringe events and thought he was a cool guy. My skepticism, however, was clearly and dramatically proven wrong. The musical wasn't perfect, really, and it's not a concept I inherently like at all, but I was laughing in the beginning and crying by the end, so I seem to have bought in completely despite myself.

There's something so sweet and honest about this little musical, with its dark humor and modest setting, that I couldn't help but appreciate it. It has some rough moments, particularly in the beginning, and particularly with the coming out storyline, which hit closest to home for me and therefore felt the most awkward when the reactions or emotions (or the rhymes) didn't ring quite true to my own experience. There's a little bit of a tendency toward reductive pop psychology, but honestly much less than I would have expected. Mostly, the concept of group therapy is a plausible and compelling backdrop for people to talk about their problems and forge difficult friendships and as such, it really works.

The LA Theatre Ensemble actors, who worked on a run of this show in January and returned to remount it for the Fringe Festival, all gave excellent, heartfelt performances dealing with some rough emotional subjects without feeling heavy at all. Their singing wasn't always spectacular, but there were some beautiful notes and moments that made up for the bits that were a little off. I really need to go see more LATE stuff. They clearly do good work.

Overall, you should absolutely go see this musical at its last two fringe performances this weekend. And I really hope this show has legs to get more productions, maybe a bit more workshopping and refining. This is the sort of musical that could be done anywhere, as it takes place in one small room, but needs and showcases some exceptional acting and singing talent (and 3 extremely skilled onstage musicians). It's a very good small-scale, raw, personal musical that could be perfect for small theaters and second stage spaces all over.