If you could relive as an adult something wonderful that happened in your teenage years, would you? Is it possible or wise, in mid-life, to try to recapture the joy and enthusiasm of youth?
These are the dilemmas facing a group of 40-year-old former musical theater performers, in a heartfelt, thoughtful musical comedy called "Greenwood" that was showcased at the Signature Theater's Peter Norton Space as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The entertaining show, with book, music and lyrics by Grammy-nominated music producer Tor Hyams and writer-director-actor Adam LeBow, takes a contemplative look at a group of adults fondly recalling their eager young selves at a summer camp for the performing arts. Twenty-five years ago, the teens capped off their summer at their beloved Camp Greenwood with an inspired performance that resonates with them all decades later, for better or worse.
Two sets of talented actors play the group of eight teenagers and their adult selves, plus a few minor characters rounding out each era's cast. Paul Stancato and associate director Frank Licari do an artful job directing and choreographing complex staging, as combinations of 23 adults and teenagers perform two dozen varied musical numbers, including reprises.
Hyams and LeBow provide clever songs in a sophisticated blend of musical styles, ranging from R&B to rock to pop to gospel. The first two songs set up the enduring contrast between the optimism of the teen drama nerds versus the unsettled, wistful attitude of many of their adult selves. Approaching mid-life, despite career and family successes, they review with some pangs of regret their choices that led away from the passions of their youth.
Along with one reminiscing adult, Sheila (Andrea McArdle), the happy teens open the show with "Greenwood," a joyous homage to the freedom of expressing their true selves. Then Adult Sheila and two other now-grown campers sing "Hello From Tomorrow," a lovely, rueful song about longing for yesterday.
For one couple, Young Alex (Andrew Redlawsk) and Young Zoe (Alicia Morton) that summer at camp is when they fell in love and that summer is a high point in their lives. They sing a delightful duet called "I Like You" which gently mocks the excessive use by young people of the interjection "like."
Adult Sheila uses her wealth and Facebook messaging to get the whole gang back together at Greenwood, with Adult Alex (Cary Shields) and Adult Zoe (Mary Mossberg) joining reluctantly, both unhappy with how their lives are going. Sheila plans to recreate that special time, get everyone bonded again, and perform a revival of the play that transformed all their lives.
The semi-negativity of some of the adults, exemplified by a humorous number, "Facebook Fugue," that considers "friend requests" to represent "too many ghosts in the machine" is quite dispelled by the peppiness of their younger selves. Musical director Chris Haberl leads a five-piece band that enhances each number, as in the energetic "Crush" which exemplifies the feel-good spirit prevalent among the teens.
After the expected trials, tribulations and tantrums, most of the adults do eventually feel renewed by their reenactment and by reconnecting with their campmates and their youthful selves. With so much heart and talent, "Greenwood" definitely feels like a show that deserves to work its way to Broadway.