No Life During "High School"

by Barry Drogin

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Note: I don't know whether the song, "Diary Of A Homecoming Queen," had been written at the time of the presentation reviewed below. For decades, I've considered it to be one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. Craig Carnelia continued to work in the theatre: "Is There Life After High School?" was a Broadway failure, as was "Sweet Smell of Success" twenty years later, but he had some success Off-Broadway performing a cabaret act with Maureen Silliman.

It was an odd assignment. The invitation was to a "presentation," not a preview or rehearsal. The producer made a speech, all but coming right out and saying that he wanted to make a lot of money. The director and the librettist did their best to convince us that the direction and libretto that we wouldn't see or hear was promising. And the composer/lyricist sat at the piano and, with the help of actress Maureen Silliman, belted out eight songs from a show I never want to hear about again.

The show is called "Is There Life After High School?" and seems to answer the question by saying that there wasn't much life before, during, or after. Unfortunately, the show itself is so contrived so as to pull every heart string and nostalgic mini- emotion your typical theatre-goer ever had, so that enjoying the show is solely based upon whether you enjoyed high school, not upon any theatrical or musical imagination.

The cast will consist of nine actors and actresses called upon to play some forty roles, an opportunity to cover every stereotype on the books. There is no dateline, and the show tries as hard as possible to be as universal as possible, which leaves just enough time to go surface-deep (perhaps the libretto will be witty enough or perceptive enough to pass over this, but I doubt it).

The lyrics tell of a high school life full of innocence and frustration. Classically, that's what high school was supposed to be like, but where are the intelligence and cynicism, the morbidity and narcissism, the anger and pomposity that reached such extremes for all of us in high school? In this production, embarrassment and confusion are horrible indicting crimes. So much for realism.

Instead, we have homecomings with confetti, reunions by people effortlessly singing of their innermost thoughts, and beer. The producer has found some tunes he can hum (which he can then let his other clients, like Barry Manilow and Dionne Warwick, sing --- a tremendously naive audience member asked whether the producer's quest for pop theatre music was an evocation of the Gershwin era!). As to the sure-firedness of the "Bambi" emotions, I think two hours worth of homecomings (of the other sort) is a little too much to bear. But then I'm not a tourist into AM radio.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007