Review: "Small Town Story" at SOPAC

Sarah Gordin

  • Contributing Theatre Critic

"Small Town Story" is a brand new musical, based on a true story and produced by American Theater Group, about a town in Texas putting on "Rent School Edition" in the high school. This choice of musical causes a divide in the town between those who support it and those who do not. This is an important show that teaches that change and theatre are necessary everywhere. The cast is comprised of a range of actors from professionals to high school students. The biggest standout for me was Ilana Gabrielle as Alex, the new student from Brooklyn. Ilana's acting and singing were incredible as she sang some of the best songs in the show, "Live Here," and "One Lone Star." Other standouts included Nick Siccone, as Scott Ames, who plays a believable teen who finally decides to stop hiding behind his camera and show who he really is as he stands up to his father. His father, played by notable Broadway performer Stacey Todd Holt, gave a beautiful performance as a father just trying to protect his son. Jaqueline Neeley, as musical theatre crazed, semi-annoying Caroline Barnes, was relatable to musical theatre kids and gave a likable performance. This character grows on you throughout the show.

 Lois Patterson (Claire McClanahan) and daughter Alex (Ilana Gabrielle) have a tense moment. The musical is at the South Orange Performing Arts Center through June 10.(Spotlights Photography courtesy of American Theater Group)

Lois Patterson (Claire McClanahan) and daughter Alex (Ilana Gabrielle) have a tense moment. The musical is at the South Orange Performing Arts Center through June 10.(Spotlights Photography courtesy of American Theater Group)

The music, written by an up and coming team, Sammy Buck and Brandon James Gwinn, is memorable. However, the opening number, “Where I Come From,” was hard to understand because it was too busy with one line solos. The music went uphill from there. The first song that caused me to take notice was the trio, "Shine," that allowed the audience to officially be introduced to the three lead teenagers, Caroline, Scott, and Alex. The next song, "Skip School Tomorrow," provided a beautiful introduction to Scott and his father's relationship as his father tried to connect with him. Other standouts included, "It's My Job," sung by the talented Claire McClanahan as Lois Patterson. This song was reminiscent of "I'm Breaking Down" from Falsettos. The duet, "You Get Me," between Caroline and Scott was comedic and adorable.

Overall, the songs advanced the plot forward with catchy melodies. I do wish that there were more group numbers throughout the show to allow the full ensemble to take a bigger part in the production. I predict this show going on to regional theatres. I can also see this show being performed by high schoolers as the show is relatable to theatre kids and has several important messages.

The book of the musical, written by Sammy Buck, was extremely well written and kept the audience's attention for the entire show. The direction by Eddie Prunoske was smart, as the characters moved seamlessly from one environment to another. It was genius when Caroline was auditioning to use the band as the accompaniment in the audition as she pantomimed giving tempo. I also really liked the use of the ladder representing Alex's room. Another key directorial moment was when the adults in the show utilized the row of chairs in the front of the audience. The lighting design by Jason Flamos was fantastic- one example being when flickering lights were used to show a storm going on outside. I also enjoyed the use of fairy lights throughout the show. The costume designer, Summer Lee Jack, created costumes that were unique to each teenage character's identity and gave the audience an accurate impression of each character.

This new musical deserves to be seen. Run, don't walk, to catch Small Town Story at SOPAC before it closes on June 10th. Enjoy the show and support new theatre!