Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Contributing Critic
Think back to the early 2000s. If you were a kid or teen during this time, especially if you were with a certain group of kids, you probably remember those years – at least, partially – as a time when flip phones were still a thing, the Warped Tour was still extremely popular, and bands like blink-182 and Sum 41 were in their prime. In short, it was the era of pop punk, and as the title suggests, it is the feeling of nostalgia for this era that the new musical Pop Punk High seeks to conjure for its audience.
Set in the year 2003, this show – largely the brainchild of writer/producer Anderson Cook, best known prior to this show for The Disembodied Hand That Fisted Everyone to Death - the Musical! – tells the story of Derek, and how he hopes to win over the heart of Amanda Bunkface – the hottest girl at Pop Punk High School – at the next battle of the bands…with the help of a certain Grammy Award nominee. As the plot unfolds, the audience is treated to plenty of twists, turns and hilarious dialogue, as Derek learns gradually learns that there’s more to being pop punk than he had thought.
Not only is it the plot and humor that makes this show impressive, but also the music and lyrics of Ben Lapidus, the frontman of alternative bands Ambler and Kill Your Friends, who also stars in the lead role. Over the course of the show, Lapidus’s score is both cleverly written and highly successful in evoking the nostalgia for the pop punk bands that inspired this show. It is also performed excellently by the four live band members: guitarists Jake Ludwig and Matt Riordan, bassist Matt Lau and drummer Andrew Campbell.
Under the direction of Felicia Lobo, the show is performed at a high-energy level that keeps the audience laughing and engaged. In the lead role of Derek, Mr. Lapidus does an excellent job at capturing the energy and attitude of the typical teenager of the pop punk era. Amanda Centeno turns in a lively performance in the role of Derek’s best friend Tib, while Patrick Sweeney is highly entertaining as the school’s leading jerk Skeet, and Melanie Brook is vocally strong as Amanda Bunkface. McLean Peterson and Jacob Glover each provide some particularly hysterical moments in the roles of Derek’s mom and his stepdad Richard, with Ms. Peterson’s impressive vocals particularly standing out in one musical number. Also, Kelly Krauter does a very good job at capturing the mannerisms of Avril Lavigne, who appears in this story as a genie in a bong. (Go see it, and it’ll make sense!) Finally, the ensemble consisting of Zac Porter, Leanne Velednitsky, and Mina Walker is stellar, doing an impressive job at performing the choreography of the show – as choreographed by Christine Ferry – in the small and intimate space at the Parkside Lounge.
There’s more I wish I could say without spoiling anything, but all I’ll say here is that I’m still humming some of the music even now, as I’m writing this review! It’s very rare that a musical actually leaves me doing that, after I’ve left the venue. It will be fascinating to see what the future might hold in store for this show, as well as for Mr. Cook’s future theatrical productions. For now, though, I promise that – especially if you’re someone who has fond memories of growing up in the 2000s – you’ll be in for a fun time, if you go and see Pop Punk High during its current run.
“Pop Punk High" runs at the Parkside Lounge on Thursdays at 8pm from January 11th to February 22nd. For more information, please visit www.poppunkhigh.com.