From "Next to Normal" to "American Idiot," the rock musical has drawn critical acclaim and box office numbers in recent years. Giving audiences more of what they apparently want, the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble is presenting an original rock musical about group therapy. It's a valiant attempt from a talented company—if a bit on the underdeveloped, overly familiar side.
Dr. Allen (Isaac Wade) has decided that his new batch of patients will sing about their problems in weekly group therapy sessions. The idea was born of the troubled doctor's love of music and his belief in the art form's healing potential. Resistance to this tuneful technique is futile, which puts one of the half-dozen patients, Phillip (Trevor Algatt), at immediate odds with the good doctor. But the other five help-seekers begin belting out their woes rather quickly, harmonizing in mostly mellow, indie rock/folk strains about cancer, failed romance, closeted homosexuality, and rape.
Adam Emperor Southard and Scott D. Southard's concept feels precisely like a season of "Glee" jammed into a two-hour play—an onstage version of the tales of a soul-searching teacher and his misfit, melody-making students. It's no surprise when Allen pulls the veil back from his messy marriage. But a few fresh characters emerge amid the predictability, particularly that of Paul (an entirely charming Michael Hanson), an aw-shucks 20-something who falls hard for every woman with whom he goes on a first date. Hanson's character-driven singing is a delight. The rest of the cast shows talent across the board, getting solid direction from Richard Tatum. The live musicians never falter. An original, relevant musical presented on a small stage sans big-budget frills is a gift, flaws and all.
Presented by Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica. Jan. 13–29. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m. www.latensemble.com.