Review: THE BULLY PROBLEM Action-Packed Musical About Bullying, Standing up for Yourself - and Robots - Shines at Fringe
Fresh off showcasing at the prestigious ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, acclaimed composer Michael Gordon Shapiro's captivating, award-winning musical THE BULLY PROBLEM is thrilling Fringe audiences with its sweet, poignant, and action-packed musical about bullying, standing up for yourself...and robots. Performed by an ensemble of actors who know how to truly support each other and work together from moment-to-moment, there is no doubt in my mind the production will be one of the biggest Fringe hits this month.In THE BULLY PROBLEM 14-year-old whiz kid Kevin Dijkstra (perfectly nerdy James Everts) yearns to escape his bully-infested school for an elite tech academy. But when he inherits a (mostly) functional android bodyguard, named Oscar (Jordan Mitchell-Love whose constant smile and stylized movements perfectly complemented the machine with a heart of gold), he's able to turn the tables on the local bully population! Sweet, poignant, and action-packed, THE BULLY PROBLEM is an all-ages musical about bullying, standing up for yourself...and robots. The show has already earned accolades. Out of hundreds of submissions to theatre legend Stephen Schwartz' Musical Theatre Workshop, writer, composer and Fringe veteran Michael Gordon Shapiro was honored to have his newest work as one of two selected for the 2018 Los Angeles program. Not long after, he was awarded first prize in New Musicals Inc.'s 2018 Search for New Musicals. From there, Shapiro wanted the next stop to be a production at Fringe."Growing up, I was one of the smart kids who were too easily pushed around," Shapiro said. "Years later this led me to the idea of a musical about outsmarting the bad guys through technology. Bullying being such a grim and ever-present topic, I felt that a fun adventure musical set in a larger-than-life universe was a great medium for making this kind of story accessible and emotionally resonant. Also, I like robots."
As a former Junior High teacher, I can certainly understand the difficulties faced by teenagers who just don't fit the mold of being "popular." THE BULLY PROBLEM takes the subject and makes it thoroughly entertaining as well as informative thanks to Shapiro's entertaining music tracks, the brilliant work by Fringe award-winning director/choreographer Joanna Syiek (The Pokemusical, Giraffenstein, Merely Players), and music director Jennifer Lin, who have put together an extraordinary cast of actors who seem to innately comprehend the characters they are portraying and have the ability to work perfectly together as a true ensemble of triple-threat performers. The musical is being produced in conjunction with New Musicals Inc., which helped Shapiro develop the show.
Along with Everts and Mitchell-Love, other stand-outs in the cast include Allie Costa as Margaret who proves girls have an important place in the technology world and deserve leadership roles, Socks Whitmore as Charley, one of the girls on the bully squad who gets sent in to spy on the techies and their new mechanical wonder, Adam Foster Ballard who comically shines as Purcell, his character very reminiscent of Forrest Gump's big-lipped buddy Bubba, and the rest of the cast who make the production a real joy to watch. They include Andrew Landecker, Hallie Mayer, Melvin Villajin Biteng, Tianna Cohen, Clint Blakely, Jayna Sweet, Frankie Zabilka, Josh Hillinger, Casey Hunter, and Malissa Marlow.
Tech credits are all top notch from Michael Mullen's costume design, Graydon Schlichter's sound design, Mitchell Webb's scenic and props design which includes large cardboard boxes, while standing white metal dividers are moved around to define room spaces against the black walls, and rainbow-colored short stools which are used as chairs in the classroom to seats at dinner tables.Despite the futuristic subject matter and contemporary musical style, Shapiro said THE BULLY PROBLEM is a throwback in many ways in that it is character and plot-driven and follows a very traditional musical theater story arc. With an age range of eight and up, it's suitable for kids and grownups alike who will be thoroughly entertained during the 90-minute show. "Above all, I hope audiences experience laughter, a sense of uplift and some melodies that linger in their heads when they see this show," he said. "And for my fellow 'smart kids' out there (young and grownup), perhaps a sense of self-recognition amongst the eccentric characters in the story." Truly, there is a place for everyone willing to take a stand and succeed using their personal skills set.
THE BULLY PROBLEM has 3 more performances during the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival on Saturday, June 22 at 5:00 p.m., Thursday, June 27 at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, June 29 at 7:00 p.m. at The Broadwater - Main Stage, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are $20 with group and educational discounts available. For tickets and more information, please visit https://www.hff19.org/5900 or www.thebullyproblem.com. Arrive early as street parking can be a challenge during Fringe and shows start on time.Production photos by Matt Kamimura