TEEN BRAIN: THE MUSICALby Linda Daugherty
Music and Lyrics by Nick Martin
Dallas Children's Theater
Director/Choreographer --- Nancy Schaeffer
Musical Direction --- Nick Martin
Scenic and Video Design --- H. Bart McGeehon
Lighting Design --- Jason Lynch
Costume Design --- Lyle Huchton
Properties Design --- Josh Smith
Sound Design --- Ziggy Renner
Stage Manager --- Phil Baranski
Holly --- Alison Boorish
Dana --- Kegan Cole
Austin --- Daniel Grimes
Ziggy --- Jacob Segoviano
J.J. --- Dalton Glenn
Ashley --- Kendyl Mull
Terri --- Sierra Stead
Sonya --- Grace Woodmansee
Ensemble --- Annabelle Gragalone, Rhiannon Rasor, Razvan Voinea-Griffin
Reviewed Performance: 2/20/2015
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Dallas Children’s Theater is reviving their 2013 hit, Teen Brain: The Musical. According to the article by Nancy Churnin in the Dallas Morning News, she says, “they [Ms. Daugherty and Mr. Martin] decided they could make [the show] better. They added characters, sharpened the music and made the show edgier for this new production.” I didn’t see DCT’s original production, but I can certainly attest to the effectiveness of the current one. The show is bursting with adolescent energy and vulnerability, and the music not only advances the story, it speaks independently of things that must be dealt with by teens (Fact from the show: “teenager” was first used by Reader’s Digest in 1945).
Linda Dougherty’s script is rooted in her interest and research, the dialogue realistically and naturally reflecting, in its fifty minute run time, situations faced by many young people. Music being such a huge part of teen life, making the show a musical seems a logical one. Fortunately, Nick Martin, who also did the music and lyrics for Skippyjon Jones, playing in DCT’s large theater, has written some upbeat and appropriate songs for Teen Brain to illuminate the script. His music direction with the young cast leads to some very nice work.
Nancy Shaeffer’s direction and choreography keep the musical fast-paced, always a good thing where teens are concerned, and the focus is clear. The structure of the play uses duet and trio scenes along with group scenes that reflect both the peer pressure teens feel and the company and companionship they need, helping us all to recall the intensity of high school relationships, good and bad.
As the show progresses, we watch the teens deal with choices and the consequences of their choices - drinking, drugs, inappropriate texting and/or posting, relationships with peers and parents - all are addressed. As a teacher for nearly forty years in both high school and university, the father of a daughter and the grandfather of three girls and a boy, I feel fairly acquainted with the teen brain and its struggles (which doesn’t make it any easier when it’s happening!). I found the script realistic in that it reflects the lives of a particular teen demographic. Other more sordid situations exist, of course, and unfortunately, as is often true, the people who might benefit most from this kind of presentation are the least likely to attend.
“Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers…” - Bye, Bye, Birdie
The cast of eleven young men and women move smoothly between scenes, singing and doing choreographed movement while handling the two stand mics in a confident and polished manner. The opening is rapid, perhaps a tad too much, but the energy pulls the audience in and gets them involved.
Jacob Segoviano, as Ziggy, introduces the whole idea of the “teen brain” as he shows the characters and us a hat he made shaped like a brain that he will wear for his class report. He gets two of the girls to help by being frontal lobes and reading their functions. It’s a cute and clever way to disperse information laced with laughs, and Mr. Segoviano as the rather nerdy, “brainy” student delivers his lines with confidence and nice, comedic timing. The show illustrates situations the teens encounter and how their brains deal with each as reflected in the choices they make.
Along with Mr. Segoviano, outstanding performances come from Alison Boorish as protagonist Holly, Kegan Cole as Dana, DaltonGlenn as J.J., Kendyl Mull as Ashley and Daniel Grimes as Austin. Mr. Glenn and Miss Mull bring a level of reality and depth of characterization to their performances and are a pleasure to watch. Mr. Glenn shows J.J.’s attraction to Holly in his sidelong looks and physical proximity, and their “Let’s be Weird Together” song/scene is a delight. Miss Mull gives Ashley unexpected layers and plays an interesting character arc as she reveals nuances vocally and physically.
Along with Sierra Stead as Terri and Grace Woodmansee as Sonya, the teen ensemble, Annabelle Bragalone, Rhiannon Rasor and Razvan Voinea-Griffin work hard, sing well and are eager to share their character’s lives. The youth and relative inexperience of the performers actually contributes to the veracity of the script with their performances. It is a joy to see so many talented young people given an opportunity to share their passion and dedication. Lessons they learn in team work, how to focus and be dependable are skills that will help them all their lives. The applause is nice too! “Kids! You can talk and talk ‘till your face is blue!” - Bye, Bye, Birdie!”
The song, “Like Me”, addresses the obsession with Facebook and other social media. The cast is constantly checking texts and postings on their phones throughout the show, and the consequences of persistent use of this technology is addressed not only in the story but also in the after show talk-back sessions. Though there is no song list in the program, numbers I wrote down as “A Work in Progress,” “Make it Through Today,” “If I Could Just Believe in Me” and “When I Was Small” speak to other experiences and concerns. Each of these songs tells something about the development of the teen brain and the special challenges particular to this age group.
Performed in the Studio Theater, an intimate and inviting space, it proves perfect for this production. Scenery by H. Bart McGeenon consists of rectangular-shaped panels covered in sheets of white paper, showing student school work interspersed with pictures from Teen Scene-style magazine and other teen-related publications. I wondered about all the white paper, and then the projections, also by Mr. McGeehon began and the papers became a screen upon which to project pictures, thoughts, abstract designs and colors, a very creative and intuitive idea.
In addition to Mr. McGeehon’s scenic and projection design, light design by Jason Lynch plays a large part in the show. Overhead girders, festooned with LEDs and side, back and overhead lighting, constantly shift, flash and illuminate the action on stage to telling effect. Costumes by Lyle Huchton are current teenage fashions carefully chosen to reflect the personalities of each character, including a letter jacket for the jock and glasses and sweater for the nerdy one. Attractive sweaters and scarves make the girl’s costumes pop. Properties designer Josh Smith, I’m assuming, created the terrific brain hat and gathered all the phones used in the show along with backpacks and other typical teen paraphernalia.
No adult characters appear on stage and the only parent voice we hear is the familiar “waa waa waa” from the Peanuts cartoons. In addition to that clever sound use, I also liked sound designer Ziggy Renner’s use of pre-show music that reminded me for some reason of Phillip Glass. I had an edgy, nervous quality that seemed right. And of note, the light and sound board operators and backstage crew for the teen shows are all teens themselves.
“Kids! But they still do just what they want to do.” Bye, Bye, Birdie!
Other teen shows at DCT have dealt with bullying, dyslexia, and dating violence among other relevant topics. All of the shows are followed by talk-backs, led by professionals in the field of interest, and speak directly to the questions and concerns of their audiences. Opening night’s talk-back was a lively discussion of the situations presented by Teen Brain, and the audience was eager to respond to the three presenters. Tips and encouragement were given and hopefully were helpful to the crowd. As was pointer out after the show, adults feel peer pressure too.
“Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock and’ roll!” - Bye, Bye, Birdie!
Production values at DCT rival any other theater in town, equity actors are routinely used in many productions, and the assortment of notable shows for family, young children, pre-teens and teens speak directly to the interests and problems of each age group. The term “children’s theater” doesn’t always mean simplistic and child-like. The Study guide for Teen Brain, available on the DCT website, has a fascinating page titled “Developmental Changes in Adolescence” that explains quite a bit about what teens, and their parents, are experiencing.
Seeing this musical would be a nice opportunity to share time with your adolescent and perhaps use it as a chance for a more open and honest relationship with that young person. As the professionals kept saying after the show, the trust and love displayed by a parent, the unquestioning acceptance, doesn’t always mean approval, but it can help avoid some bad consequences. Hopefully, the “Kids!” lyrics from Bye, Bye, Birdie don’t represent the thinking of all adults today and that those who do think that way are willing to step back and attempt to understand rather than judge. Thanks to Dallas Children’s Theater for putting on shows like this for audiences, teen and adult, to experience. It’s both instructive AND entertaining.
Dallas Children’s Theater
5938 Skillman St.
Dallas, TX 75231
Runs through March 1st
Enjoyed by ages 12 and up - not suitable for young children
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 1:30 pm and 4:30pm
Tickets are $14.00 each for general seating.
For tickets and more information, go to www.dct.org or call 214-740-0051