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LA Theater Review

City Kid: The Musical

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There are flashes of Rent and Footloose — and a bit too much West Side Story — in this energetic rock opera, which arrives in L.A. after 12 years of germination, following earlier incarnations as a concept album and a developmental staging. Creator-lyricist Adrienne Anderson's dance-dominated piece about the dreams and frustrations of urban youth is buoyed by Bradley Rapier's electrifying choreography; a vibrant score (music by Peter Bunetta and Rick Chudacoff), infused with rock, rhythm and blues, and rap; first-rate music direction and orchestrations by Patrick Gandy; and a sensational cast. What's lacking is a satisfying narrative.

Though sung-through musicals generally cite a librettist, none is credited here. There's a linear story line, but it's too derivative of earlier works to generate much interest, leading to banality and contrivances. It's inhabited by characters that fit snugly into familiar molds. Set in an unspecified urban mecca, it's the tale of fresh-faced Jimmy (John Keefe), the perky new kid in town who's trying to gain acceptance from the local crowd. He makes the mistake of falling for and pursuing the lovely Anna (Arielle Paul). This leads to trouble, because the domineering Slick (Thomas Hobson), leader of the street-smart groupies, also has his eye on Anna. Slick sets a series of catastrophic events in motion, leading to street warfare, inevitable death, and an improbable reconciliation.

Director Steve Tomkins keeps the show moving briskly. Rapier's exciting blend of hip-hop, rock, and other styles results in artful contemporary ballet. The engaging songs are dominated by group numbers that convey the characters' high spirits and determination, with love ballads and rueful, self-reflective solos mixed in. Keefe, sporting a wonderful singing voice, is a highly appealing protagonist. Paul is likewise formidable, particularly in her powerful solo numbers "Something More" and "Anna's Soliloquy." If we can't warm up to the control-freak Slick, we can marvel at Hobson's electrifying portrayal thereof and his astonishingly athletic dance moves. Marliss Amiea excels as the spunky Lena, girlfriend of the fickle Slick, and Jake Wesley Stewart impresses as Anna's ill-fated brother. Those willing to look past the hackneyed story will find much to enjoy in this likely crowd-pleaser.

Presented by City Kid Productions and Gary Allen Productions in association with Stiletto Entertainment at the Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Oct. 20-Nov. 25. (323) 960-7863. www.citykidthemusical.com.

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