Review: Trevor the Musical (Writers Theatre)

| September 5, 2017

Eli Tokash and Salisha Thomas star as Trevor and Diana Ross in Trevor the Musical, Writers Theatre             

Written by Dan Collins (book/lyrics)
   and Julianne Wick Davis (music)
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL (map)
thru Oct 8  |  tix: $35-$80  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


   Now extended thru October 8!

Much more than an issue-oriented musical about teen suicide


Eli Tokash stars as Trevor in Trevor the Musical, Writers Theatre 2

Writers Theatre presents
Trevor the Musical

Review by John Olson

It’s now a fairly well-known statistic that suicide is the leading cause of death among people age 10 to 20. The rate of suicide attempts among lesbian/gay and bisexual teens is four times that of straight youths (among questioning youths it’s “only” double the rate of suicide attempts among straights in the same age group). Grim statistics, to be sure, but remarkably, the arguably most influential work of art to build awareness and concern for that crisis was not grim, but was a charming, warmly funny 16-minute film called “Trevor” (the film can be found at the bottom of this review). The 1994 film that tied for Best Live Action Short in the Academy Awards follows a confident, brassily artistic 13-year-old who must come to terms with his emerging same-sex orientation at the onset of puberty. The social ostracizing he experiences as his junior high school classmates come to recognize Trevor’s gayness as a fact rather than a suspicion leads to Trevor’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. The honest, but humorous treatment of the subject may have made the subject just accessible enough to gain a wide Eli Tokash and Matthew Uzarraga star as Trevor and Walter in Trevor the Musical, Writers Theatreaudience – and it sparked the founding of The Trevor Project, a nationwide organization providing support for youths at risk for suicide, education on the crisis, and advocacy for public laws and policy that will reduce suicide among LGBTQ youth.

In expanding the story of the short film to a full length (two-hour, including intermission) stage musical, writer Dan Collins and composer Julianne Wick Davis have kept the warmly comic tone of the film and added more context to Trevor’s story. They’ve added empathetic detail to the trials of puberty so that, without losing any of its focus or punch on the issue of LGBT youth suicide, Trevor has become more than just that. It’s a story of that very specific period of growing up that has resonance for anyone over age 13.

James Lecesne, who wrote the screenplay of the film, made a brilliant decision in choosing to make his protagonist a 13-year-old. It’s the time of life when sexuality begins to emerge (the desire of early teens to “make out” is a theme in both film and musical). Kids at this age are also expected to conform to gender-specific norms: boys feel the need to act manlier, girls to be more feminine. It’s the first point in Trevor’s life when he starts to feel pressure to behave against his instincts, like when his pal Walter shows him an underwear catalog so he can ogle the girls and Trevor is instead more interested in the male models.

The producers and writers have Broadway hopes for this piece, and accordingly brought in the Broadway director Marc Bruni and choreographer Josh Prince (both of Beautiful) who have given it Broadway-style energy and professionalism. The kids – a mix of age-appropriate performers and some youthful looking young adults – move around smoothly between scenes that shift from junior high classrooms, a gym and auditorium to Trevor’s bedroom and the family living room, thanks to Donyale Werle’s clever bi-level set design. The costumes by Chicago-based Mara Blumenfeld are spot-on replicas of junior high and adult casual wear circa 1981.

Eli Tokash, Jarrod Zimmerman and Sophie Grimm star as Trevor and his parents in Trevor the Musical Eli Tokash and Declan Desmond star as Trevor and Pinky in Trevor the Musical, Writers TheatreEli Tokash stars as Trevor in Trevor the Musical at Writers Theatre (2)

The creative team has also hired a teenaged Broadway veteran actor for the title role. The 14-year-old Eli Tokash, who was a replacement for all the boys in Finding Neverland and for Theo in the revival of Pippin, is a real pro and more than able to carry the show, as he’s required to do. He shows great comic timing and charm, and sells his 15 musical numbers with his as-yet unchanged voice. His character is a budding showman who loves Diana Ross and choreographs a number for the football jocks for the school talent show. When the outside world (in the form of his classmates), begins to tell him it’s not cool to be so flamboyant, Tokash gives us Trevor’s initial denial of that reality and his gradual fear and heartbreak as he becomes shunned when evidence of his attraction to boys surfaces.

Equally effective in their smaller roles are three other young actors in key roles. Declan Desmond is winning as the good-looking jock Pinky who initially befriends Trevor but later rejects him after Trevor’s attraction to Pink becomes known. Matthew Uzarraga, who has been seen in many Equity productions around Chicago (like Gavroche in Drury Lane’s Les Mis and Tam in Paramount’s Miss Saigon) has one of his meatiest roles here as the nerdy friend, Walter, who feels betrayed when Trevor’s orientation becomes evident. Tori Whaples is adorably funny as the awkward girl who’s attracted to Trevor and unwittingly serves as his cover.

Eli Tokash stars as Trevor in Trevor the Musical at Writers Theatre Tori Whaples and Eli Tokash star as Cathy and Trevor in Trevor the Musical, Writers TheatreEli Tokash stars as Trevor in Trevor the Musical at Writers Theatre 3

The score features clever lyrics by Collins set to upbeat and age-appropriate melodies by Wick. (There are also several Diana Ross standards added to the mix). Wick’s music, though appropriately fast-paced for the style of the show, could use a little more variety and complexity (syncopation will not stunt the growth of early teens, you know). “One of These Days” – a hopeful duet for Trevor and Pinky in which they imagine their futures – is the song that’s stuck with me.

While most of the musical maintains an ironic charm in the style of TV’s “The Wonder Years” (and more recently,The Real O’Neals”), Trevor’s suicide attempt delivers an emotional punch reminding us this issue is lot more serious than angst over acne, B.O. or wearing the wrong kind of athletic shoes. While recovering in the hospital, Trevor finds help with his crisis from an unexpected source. This leads rather too easily to an upbeat and hopeful finale that is not sufficiently earned to completely deliver the catharsis we expect of a musical (and that this one wants to deliver). That, however, is about this piece’s only major shortcoming to be addressed. It’s already a quite stage-worthy musical that might well find a place on Broadway, such as other kid-oriented musicals such as Matilda and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Rating: ★★★½

Trevor the Musical continues through September 17 October 8th at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm (Performance times can vary, so check their schedule for exact showings).  Tickets are $35-$80, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 5 minutes, includes an intermission)

Eli Tokash stars as Trevor in Trevor the Musical, Writers Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Eli Tokash (Trevor), Salisha Thomas (Diana Ross), Declan Desmond (Pinky), Matthew Uzarraga (Walter), Tori Whaples (Cathy), Jarrod Zimmerman (Dad, Father Joe, others), Sophie Grimm (Mom, Mrs. Kerr, others), Maya Lou Hlava (Frannie), Jhardon DiShon Milton (Jack, others), Eloise Lushina (Mary), Reilly Oh (Jason, ensemble), Graydon Peter Yosowitz (Trevor at matinees on two-show days), Nathaniel Braga, Ariana Burks, Timothy Eidman, Isabel Kaegi, Carly Meyer, Justin O’Brien, Jerome Riley Jr. (ensemble), Nick Graffagna, Will Skrip, Ninah Snipes, Elizabeth Stenholt (understudies)

behind the scenes

Marc Bruni (director), Josh Prince (choreographer), Matt Deitchman (musical director), Greg Pliska (orchestrations), Donyale Werle (scenic design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Mara Blumenfeld (costume design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Scott Dickens (properties master), Bobby Kennedy (dramaturg), David Castellanos (production stage manager), Mallory Jane Bass (asst. stage manager), Noah Teplin (copyist, assistant to the music team), Tyrone Phillips (asst. director), Ellen Morris (asst. music director), Aubrey Adams (asst. choreographer), Timothy Eidman (dance captain), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Eli Tokash and Salisha Thomas star as Trevor and Diana Ross in Trevor the Musical, Writers Theatre

“Trevor” the film


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Category: 2017 Reviews, John Olson, Musical, New Work, Video, World Premier, Writers' Theatre, YouTube

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