I've never been to an American musical before. I've also never been to an "older audience appropriate" musical. There was something so much darker, and yet so much more real about the characters.
Yet that doesn't mean that it didn't have its fun. lots of singing and dancing ensued, most notably, for myself at least, was Carmen's "remember my name". People always will. Yet not for the reasons she wanted.
As it focuses on Tyrone's disadvantaged status, it perhaps focuses on an American experience of racism, which felt a little dissonant to a modern audience, unfamiliar with racism as it was in the 80's. As a British person, it would not occur to me that someone couldn't do ballet "because they were black". It would never occur to me that because people are black, they are destined to be drug dealers. Yet this is the gritty world that Tyrone portrays to Iris. The musical is quite obviously an American one, both in location (Los Angeles) and the optimistic idea that hard work allows one to achieve their dreams. "The American dream".
The costumes were incredibly accurate. The teenagers looked like they had waltzed out of an 80's version of my art Btec class. The singing was brilliant. I just wanted to sing along to every note. And it was done with such energy and passion.
Along with the singing, there was music. Some was played by the cast whilst dancing and performing onstage, and some was played in a back room, using microphones and speakers. There was a saxophonist, a cornet player, a pianist and a drummer. They all had multiple solos, all of which were played energetically. The dancing was non-stop, and also very lively. All the cast had so much stamina and enthusiasm, both in performing gentle ballet dances and energetic hip hop.
The set was minimalistic, yet was moved about and reused efficiently. The backdrop consisted of yearbook photos. I think this reinforced the idea of "American school", without actually showing one, which was clever, as less set had to be changed between. As the cast only had one or two pieces of set to move, there was little waiting, which I think helped keep the energetic pace going, and helped the audience to forget they were merely watching actors on a stage. They also lit the backdrop to assist in changing the scene. When Tyrone began his rap about "being black", there was a moving American flag made up of blocks of yearbook photos. When the teacher starts singing about her students, their photos light up in a rose colour. This conveys that she cares about them, within a short space of time. When Schlomo mourns Carmen, her yearbook photo is lit up. it makes the scene all the more poignant. She was so close,yet she failed to reach her dreams so badly. I was in tears come the end. His mourning for her looked so real.
However, as the rest of the cast moved on with their lives,the show remained uplifting, even throughout the sad times. As they all stood up at the end, they sung their graduation song, and as all adolescents must move on from the highs and lows of school, so did they also.