There's a hint of Rent and a touch of bare in this new youths-in-crisis musical, which was first staged in 2001 in the BFA Musical Theatre Professional Training Program at CSU-Fullerton. An enjoyable pop/rock score by composer/lyricist Rob Hartmann and co-lyricist Bruce Goodrich, and a solid cast of energetic young performers make for an entertaining if formulaic experience. Goodrich's feel-good book is a thin and cliched commodity, providing a token framework for the fast-paced cavalcade of 22 songs.
The setting is a 24-hour crisis hotline in Los Angeles, where youths who have troubled pasts of their own volunteer their time to provide on-the-spot counseling for peers who are drug addicts, despondent homeless citizens, and people on the brink of suicide. As a television crew films a documentary about the center, portions of the individual stories are viewed on video screens as the actors are interviewed. But most of the show consists of rousing group numbers, with a handful of poignant ballads. Music direction by Wayne Moore, orchestrations by Brett Strader and Moore, choreography by Desiree Robbins, and James R. Taulli's taut direction result in a vibrant two-and-a-half hours.
The strongest member in the tight ensemble is Matthew Rocheleau as college-bound Brian, who clearly has a more privileged background than his colleagues have but nonetheless suffers from youthful angst. The charismatic Rocheleau makes the most of his spirited solo numbers and makes us care about Brian during his crash lesson in life's priorities. There is likewise superb work from heavenly-voiced Shannon Mills as the somewhat wild Misty, who doesn't know it yet but who needs a down-to-earth lover such as Brian rather than the abusive cad with whom she plans to run away. Other standouts include the cocky program director Perry (Charles Woodruff), his spunky ex-flame Veronica (Fleur Phillips), the openly gay Aaron (Daniel Canaday), who masks his loneliness with flippant comments, and the male stripper Luca (Mark Shunock), who worries about the future of his 2-year-old daughter. This gifted company manages to bring flashes of humanity to the fairy tale narrative, in which life's messiest problems lead to happily-ever-after resolutions within the course of a day.