Christopher Anselmo's and H.S. Kaufman's Fable is, in a word, tricky. The musical is set at a high school graduation party and, if you're thinking maybe a Breakfast Club with songs, you're not far off. You will also be in the ballpark if you conjure a Risky Business minus the prostitutes, and the reason is that there is no way around the commonalities of pre-college freaking-out, the sex/closeness thing, and youthful energy. A lot of youthful energy. Did I mention youthful energy?
This is dangerous territory for musicals, a reality that gut-punched Prince and Sondheim with Merrily We Roll Along. For kids this age, God knows, absolutely everything is life and death, and this is rough to digest once you've left those melodramatic years behind. What Fable has going for it, however, is something able to transcend the inherently annoying element of kids! feeling! life! and! confusion! -- an utterly perfect cast of six young actors who are a joy to behold and hear. You may think that Marissa O'Donnell's Emmy is the star turn, but you will change your mind within minutes as you admire the fragile cool of Gerianne Perez's Chelsea, or the poignant solo of Alex Walton's Tucker, or....well, what the others do. Further assets are Anselmo's clever and oddly endearing score, and Jen Wineman's sure directorial hand. H.S. Kaufman's book is unfortunately too randomized a foundation -- equal time is given to each kid's personal anguish and each reads real, but even this sort of show needs an arc, and the lack translates to dramatic one-upmanship; you're all ready to accept Emmy's big moment as the crescendo, for example, but you're wrong. Let it be said as well that playing jovial drunk is a bitch for the greatest of actors, and to expect even gifted young people to pull it off expertly is almost cruel.
Yet everything not good, from the inescapable eye-rolling occasioned by all teenage characters to an unnecessary (and almost squirm-inducing) male-bonding number, is eclipsed by the wonderful fact of six young performers with enough talent and appeal to race circles around Broadway. They are - yes, I'll say it - fabulous.
Performances of Fable continue through July 27 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. For more reviews of NYMF productions, click here.
Through July 27 at the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre.