CSN’s light ‘Gleeful’ packs a punch

The College of Southern Nevada’s "A Gleeful Musical Revue" is a happy surprise. It’s an often well-sung, tongue-in-cheek, romantic, moving evening of effortless musical comedy.

Bookwriters J. Max Baker and Jessenia Paz approach their tales of teenage angst with the same concept used in the "Glee" television series. Dramatic moments are punctuated by well-known songs with adjusted lyrics (backed by four onstage musicians).

The action is set at present-day CSN where students and faculty are struggling with budget cuts. Baker and Paz make a wise decision in portraying the dean as a cartoon villain. Michael Connelly, as the bureaucrat, is a bad guy straight out of a vaudeville routine. The exaggerated approach helps us feel we’re not being bombarded with propaganda.

The kids we meet are putting together production numbers in the hope their performances will convince the dean of the importance of the drama curriculum. Between songs, we see how art transforms these emotionally fragile teens in ways that subjects like mathematics and science — whose values are never put down — do not.

Director Douglas Baker gets a consistent, firm sense of fun from his 21-member cast (all but four of whom are CSN students). The production soars during several choral numbers that make for overpowering experiences. Great music wows you when you least expect it.

I wish I could mention all of those who deserve it.

Suffice it to say Ryan Bobbett is a charming leading man with a voice and presence that gives the show its rock.

And Michael Russell as Zed expertly realizes a major dramatic arc from obnoxious jokester to sincere, vulnerable lover, disillusioned lover and mature-thinking adult. He brings controlled urgency to his musical numbers that leave no doubt he’s an accomplished actor.

Kristin Gressley’s inventive and humorous choreography adds mounds of pleasure. And Baker’s staging keeps all of the three-sectioned audience in on the action.

This is a light but never trivial entertainment that packs quite a punch.

The director, cast and writers help us understand why the changes occur in these emotionally raw characters.

The show is upbeat, but I took away from it a powerful reminder of the forgotten pains of adolescence.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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