Making choices and feeling self-worth is the message in "When I Grow Up," an inventive new musical for older elementary school age children and early teen-agers from South Coast Repertory's 1989 Educational Touring Production.
The show takes a break from its school tour to perform at the Long Beach Jewish Community Center on Sunday.
A character called Friend (Keith Devaney), stays on the sidelines and guides the action of three 6th-grade loners who want to be accepted. Tina (Victoria Hoffman), the worrier, is anxious about going into junior high. Hugo (Michael Alvarez), a budding writer, is being pressured to join a gang and Melody (Martha J. New) wants to be cool like the "in" kids.
Friend's advice--to go along with anything, just to belong--gets them in trouble and some of it is scary, particularly Tina's experimentation with drugs. In the process, three lessons are learned, although how Hugo is able to deal with the gang's threats when he decides not to join them is somewhat cloudy.
Written by Jerry Patch, with music by Michael Silversher and directed by John-David Keller, the show may be just a little too ambitious--the issues it deals with are complex and can only be superficially touched on here.
And, although it is well acted, the adult actors lack the voices to deliver the show's tuneful musical messages with sufficient impact.
The cast does put the humor over with style, however, and there's plenty of it, from a demonstration of just what "cool" is, to costume and set designer Dwight Richard Odle's innovative solution to extending the cast: each actor "wears" two friends of the inanimate, stuffed and sewn variety. The effect is startling and worth more than one grin.
Throughout, Friend serves as Devil's Advocate, helping the onstage kids go wrong, but pulling the audience in by asking their advice and reactions. That may be the show's biggest strength: how well it knows its target audience and how intimately it involves that audience.
\o7 At 3801 E. Willow St. in Long Beach, Sunday only at 1:30 p.m. $3. (213) 426-7601.