BWW Review: HOWIE D: BACK IN THE DAY at The Rose Theater is Fun Family Entertainment
HOWIE D: BACK IN THE DAY is bringing all of its middle school angst to the stage at the Rose Theater in a special world premiere.
Howie D, born Howard Dorough to a Puerto Rican mother and Irish-Scottish father, knew from a young age that he wanted to perform. This semi-biographical musical is co-authored by the accomplished writing team of Lisa St. Lou and Tor Hyams with original songs from Howie D's "Which One Am I?" debut album (also produced by Grammy nominee Tor Hyams.) The story loosely parallels Howie's middle school years. It touches on acceptance by peers, siblings, parents, and even self.
As Howie wrestles with his passion for performance, he lives in the shadow of his popular older sister, Pollyanna (Natalie Hanson), the acknowledged queen of the school. His father, Mr. D. (Matthew Olsen), is an all business, hardworking cop who uses a flashlight to interrogate his son. His mother, Mrs. D. (Cristina Maria Castro), exudes encompassing love as she acts as intermediary between father and son.
Finding he doesn't fit in with his classmates, Howie joins a group of self-labeled freaks who have formed a performing group called the Pot Luck Players. They are determined to win a Star Search-like contest against the fierce competition of his sister and her gal pals.
HOWIE D: BACK IN THE DAY is relevant in this day with conflict resolution and music that will appeal to the ears of both the younger set and their parents. It is cute with many bright spots. Everyone will come to see a Backstreet Boy. In this case, they will see more than a member of an iconic boy band. Howie stands alone as a fine soloist and can even do a moon walk. Where this show really excels, though, is in the collection of appealing songs with clever lyrics which makes for a very family friendly, enjoyable show.
Howie's not-so-famous co-stars hold their own on stage. Local actress and comedienne Theresa Sindelar is comedy gold as Howie's offbeat teacher, Mrs. Schaefer. Being a pro at improvisation, I can never tell if she is following the script or going off on an inspired sidebar.
Roni Shelley Perez, home from New York City where she appeared in "Comfort Women: A New Musical," a sobering story about Korean women sold as sex slaves to the World War II Japanese Army, shows she can put a light touch on middle school woes. She is bold and captivating as Lucy in "Kind of a Freak" and "Stand Up, Stand Out." There are shades of Pippin or The Greatest Showman here that suggest that being different may be a freak to some, but it is genius to others.
Natalie Hanson nails the "Mean Girl meets Marcy Park" Pollyanna. Her song "Better" couldn't be better. It expresses the pressures that come along with the need to be the best. The song is catchy and presents well accompanied by the cool choreography by Sue Gillespie Booton. Another particularly fun choreographed number is "We're Not Here" where Tommy (Jake Parker) advises Howie D. to survive middle school by pretending to be invisible.
The cast is well rehearsed, sounds great, and puts high energy into their performance.
Sherri Geerdes designs a fabulous German dirndl for Sindelar and a Michael Jackson Thriller jacket for Howie D. The monster costumes in "Monsters in My Head" are the right amount of rags and robes. Scenic designer Tim McMath keeps it simple with a desk that looks like a radio, a few chairs, and a geometric backdrop that is lit up with lighting by Matt Benes amplified with Brittany Merenda's colorful projections. It is eye catching. Music director Jerry Brabec directs a quality orchestra.
Director Matt Gutschick, who hopes this show will encourage families to see the arts with new eyes, keeps this show moving smoothly so that it finishes in "an hour plus change." It is great family theatre with some real Broadway moments.
The message of HOWIE D: BACK IN THE DAY? Follow your dreams and you could be that 1 in a million. Of course, you could also be that 1 in the other 999,999. Wherever you end up, the Rose Theater is the place to be now through February 16.
Performance schedule and tickets are available at www.rosetheater.org.
Photo Credit: Alex Myhre