Tuesday, October 30, 2018

“Everything is Okay” focuses the spotlight on Millennials @ Cleveland Public Theatre

American Musical Theater has transitioned from the follies and vaudeville days of the early to-mid-1900s to its Golden Era of the 1940s through 1960s, starting with “Oklahoma,” the story musical, where the book, music and dance all blended together to tell a cohesive story.  “Hair,” the “hippie” rock musical, brought major alterations to the format by showcasing the changing political and societal attitudes of the 60’s.  “Rent” transported the musical theater world into the new millennium by showcasing the emerging “younger” generation who celebrated life in the face of the AIDS crisis with the use of rock-pop music, breaking the barrier between rock music and theatre music, and show-casing the reality of the tough, gritty life that that generation was facing.

Cleveland Public Theatre is now staging “Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies).” It is a musical written by Melissa Crum and Caitlin Lewins about the Millennium generation. 

Millennials, born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, are marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.  They are a generation who have been taught to ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me?”  They search for “what it is to be normal.”  They are “much-maligned as entitled, self-absorbed snowflakes.”   

As the program to the musical states, “Everything is Okay” is a generation’s harmonized laugh- ‘til-we-cry plea to sit in the discomfort of the big questions, rise above them, and keep fucking going.”  “They’ve gown-up with violence, racial divide, globalization, the Right, The Left, the conflicting worlds of fascistic religiosity, and a bankrupt system of morality, gender fluidity, queer revolution, rampant teenage suicide, technology that prohibits space and time and permission for self-reflection.” 

As was the case with “Rent,” the script is generation-specific and now easily misunderstood by those who are not actively living the lives of that specific group.  The show probably won’t be appreciated by “older” generations, who might ask, “What’s with all these self-centered characters, self-indulgent songs, and morbidity?”

At intermission I turned to a twenty-something young lady sitting next to me and asked, “How are you reacting to the production.”  She indicated that it represented a lot of what she and her friends were feeling and the ways they coped with the world around them.  She referenced the misbelief in killings of Jews in Pittsburgh and the words used by the President in basically condoning what went on in the 1917 Charlottesville, Virginia White Supremacist Rally.  She said many of her friends are disheartened and full of angst.

Yes, that’s the disjointed message of ““Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies).”

Yes, the musical is disjointed, not a clear storyline like we are used to in musical comedies and dramas.  The songs don’t hook together clearly.  The script has no clear beginning, middle and end.   The motivations between songs aren’t developed.  We have no clear identification of who is who as the characters often blend into each other.   The musical sounds are often discordant, out of balance. The music jumps from style-to-style…rock, country, ballads squish together.

All of those “complaints” are what makes the show so millennial!  This is not intended to be “The Sound of Music” or “Hamilton.”  It is the story of a specific -generation in angst.

Even the titles of songs carry that up-tight, lost feeling: “No One I Love is Gonna Die Today,” “Eulogy Song,” “Hey I’m Sorta Into You,” “Alone,” “Learned a Little,” “Shitty Sad Luau Song,” “Masturbation Song,” “Shame,” ‘Slut Song,” “Falling Apart,” and “Smile Song.”  The lyrics contain bad jokes, sexual allusions, swearing, statements of frustration, morbid ideas and escapist ideas.

The cast (Melissa Crum, Madelyn Hayes, Caitlin Lewins, Joshua McElroy, Matt O’Shea and Jerry Tucker) are young and filled with determination.  They have good voices.  They execute the shallow choreography with gritty determination.  They interact with each other as friends, rather than performers, allowing the audience to be part of their “in-jokes” and stories. 

Capsule judgement: “Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies)” is not a show for everyone.  It, in fact, could be an uncomfortable sit for some.  For Millennials, and those willing to open themselves to seeing a “new” style musical, based on a specific generation’s angst, it provides an interesting experience.

Coming up at CPT: “Outside The Mirror,” the 2018 CPT/Y-Haven Theatre Project.  November 8-11.  

For tickets to any CPT show call 216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/.