Young people have a lot on their plates. Between school, activities, peer pressure, bullies and those flammable hormones, well, it’s not easy. Throughout it all, the brave search for identity rages on.
This is the premise of the new musical “Pretty Funny,” which received its world premiere at MusicalFare on July 12 and continues through Aug. 13.
It is written by Buffalo natives Marisa Guida and Philip Farugia and was conceived by Guida. MusicalFare has been instrumental in the show’s development and workshops over the last two and a half years. Randall Kramer directs this debut production.
Like its protagonist, an awkward but confident seventh grader named Genny, the show wanders for solutions. It doesn’t know who it is, despite having a personality. It doesn’t know what to do with itself, despite having many skills and gifts. But what Genny doesn’t know at first, and eventually learns, is that she’s exactly where she should be at her age. This is the time for exploration, for pushing boundaries and taking risks. This is the age where you start to meet yourself.
The same can be said for this musical. It’s got some growing up to do, some decisions to make, but it’s not exactly off-course, either. There’s love, passion and talent all over it. With the creative team’s pedigree, we know that it comes from a stable home.
Arin Lee Dandes is a hoot as the precocious Genny. Dandes has a knack for playing young characters, those innocent souls who yearn to do the right thing but who want for mischief and rebellion. Her comedic timing is acute, and her singing voice, while hidden in Farugia’s score, is beautiful. If you’ve not seen her at Theatre of Youth in roles like this, now would be a good time to see what she can do.
Genny is bullied at school for her looks and nerdy clothing. At the behest of her supportive father, she studies the life and work of comedy legend Imogene Coca, a role model whose ethos equates beauty with humor. Genny’s father is a vaudeville lover (which seems awfully convenient for a plot point), who wants to see his little girl ascend the schoolyard with confidence.
Louis Colaiacovo and Dandes make a darling father-daughter duo, the most convincing relationship in the show. Genny’s mother, a corporate climber who equates beauty with pain, love with sacrifice, is played nonetheless lovingly by Amy Jakiel.
Nicole Marrale Cimato takes on this giant role of Imogene Coca with great flair and ability. She’s a natural choice to play the enigmatic, rubber-faced Coca, for whom she is a dead ringer. Cimato is best in her physical routines, which are sadly few and far between. Ironically, the show never quite belongs to Coca — or Cimato — in the way that it demands. The role needs more definition and less explanation, and far less exposition. A 90-minute biographical revue, on the other hand, wouldn’t be the worst way to spend an evening.
Kramer directs with a steady hand. Despite its density, he keeps things moving along nicely. Small gags get big laughs, especially from ensemble members Marc Sacco, Leah Berst and Brittany Noel Bassett. Rheanna Gallego, Dan Urtz and Michael Wachowiak round out the cast.
Farugia, who also leads the pit, has written some personable songs that are musically catchy but lyrically overwrought. Too many moments have a song, and too many of those songs are sentimental. A few don’t belong in here at all, like the one about laboratory testing called “Who Cares? It’s a Mouse.” (It is a great tune, I’ll give it that.)
Guida’s book is heartfelt but confused with itself. Too often it feels like a show driven by emotion and not action. In this respect — and I say this in all sincerity, and not as a slight — it might be better tailored for young audiences, who need lessons like this more than (most) adults do.
There’s room to figure this out, though. The good news is you’re never too old to find yourself. The better news is that you’re probably closer than you think.
2 stars (out of 4)
Continues through Aug. 13 at MusicalFare Theatre, Daemen College campus, 4380 Main St., Amherst Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $43. For more information, visit musicalfare.com or call 839-3540.