Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang
If the film version of West Side Story was created as a B-picture starring Mamie Van Doren, it probably would have looked a lot like David G. Smith and Mark W. Knowles' musical comedy Angry Young Teen-Age Girl Gang.
Okay, I'll give our younger readers a moment to Google Mamie Van Doren. (And I'll give our really younger readers another moment to Google West Side Story.)
With it's opening ballet of 1950's tough girls flaunting their defiance against society in classic pseudo-Jerome Robbins style, Girl Gang pays affectionately homage to the dramatic junk food of those cheaply made black and white juvenile delinquency films, which in their day warned of the proliferation of "wild teens" while providing bits of sexual titillation and unstated, but obvious, hints of lesbianism.
Didi (a nicely earnest Rebecca Marcotte) is doing her best to be a "clean teen", but when her boyfriend accidentally runs down a French beatnik poet (a fun comic turn by Knowles) she takes the rap for the crime to escape her fate as an orphan living with her lecherous uncle and is sent to girls juvenile detention. There she learns about the grimier side of life from the gang of rowdy inmates, led by Myra (an understated and sympathetic Jaye Maynard), who hides her "special feelings" towards Didi, while being encouraged by a kindly nun (played with the utmost sincerity by Dan E. Campbell) to make a good future for herself. Sounds like a perfect scenario for a campy satire, but about mid-way through Didi first solo, "Ballerina With a Blade", you begin to realize that much of the show is played in earnest. A lyric like "My mother watched and I used to think / How beautiful she looked without a drink" can get a snicker at first, but by the 32nd bar you begin to feel Angry Girl Gang's heart.
Not that there aren't plenty of laughs. Knowles' book is filled with creative tough talk like "The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river" and my personal favorite, "It's tough going through life with just a pair of tits and no respect." And the casting concept of having all juveniles, both boys and girls, played by adult women and all the grown-ups played by men helps make comedy out of what might be uncomfortable scenes of violence and sexual tension if played by actors of appropriate ages, like Mark Christopher Tracy's wonderfully over the top zaniness as the depraved prison house mother.
Smith's music and lyrics provide a fun combination of cool beatnik jazz, soft-hearted ballads, zany melodrama and even a bit of Elvis thrown in. Arrangements for a four piece ensemble by Matt Davis and David Nielsen evoke a hipster feel featuring plenty of bongo beats. It's the kind of musical that will send you out snapping the tunes.