I often wonder if plays should be graded on a metatheatrical curve. Should a show about torture get extra points for being hard to watch? A play about anorexia given a pass for being thin? If such grade inflation were preferred, The Yellow Wood, a scatterbrained musical about ADD, would merit high marks. On a stricter scale, though, it should be forced to repeat basic drama — poetry interp, too.
The Yellow Wood takes its title from one of the best-known works in the English language and finds 17-year-old Adam Davies (Jason Tam) on the day he's supposed to recite the Frost poem from memory. It's also the day the "Ritalin junkie" has gone off his meds — to prove that he can. What follows is a musical about normalcy, cultural heritage, and poetry that sounds ambitious but proves both overstuffed and underdeveloped. When Adam arrives at his eventual revelation, the script gently mocks its obviousness, wondering why it took so long (two hours and 20 minutes!) to reach such a simple conclusion. The self-awareness is appreciated, but revision would have been wiser. So, too, would have been careful analysis of Frost's poem, with attention paid to his appreciation for irony. I shudder to think of the inevitable Good Fences!, a follow-up about how barriers really do improve relations. I might think Frost himself would be similarly nonplused, but he didn't seem to mind The Yellow Wood — or at least the musical's beatifically smiling representation of Frost didn't.
That The Yellow Wood contains such cringeworthy moves are all the more surprising given the presence of Tony Award winner BD Wong as helmer. Smartly idiosyncratic in his acting choices, here Wong indulges the material's lapses into artlessness. He also does nothing to lessen the awkward racial overtones of a song in which a pretty blond girl (Caissie Levy) repeatedly tells our half-Korean hero that he's "yellow."
But as part of a festival aimed at discovering new musical theatre talent, The Yellow Wood does boast a pair of phenomenal young actors. Levy is so thoroughly appealing that she makes palatable a ridiculous character whose relation to reality isn't particularly worth parsing. Meanwhile, scene after scene is thankfully stolen by Randy Blair. A rotund dynamo with the voice and charisma of a Rocky Horror-era Meat Loaf, Blair deserves the career Dan Fogler has been working so hard to sabotage. Here, though, neither Blair nor any other individual is quite enough to make all the difference.
Presented by Gold Modern, Inc. as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival
at the Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.
Sept. 19-Oct. 1. Remaining performances: Tue., Sept. 25, 4:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 29, 1 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 1, 4:30 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com. or www.nymf.org.
Casting by Michael Cassara.