Between The Lines
Musicals about female empowerment have proven to be big business on Broadway – from “Wicked” to “Mean Girls” to “Six” – which may be one reason for the arrival of the new Off-Broadway tuner “Between the Lines, based on the young adult novel by best-selling author Jodi Piccoult and her daughter Samantha Van Leer. And, maybe not surprisingly, Jeff Calhoun’s ultra-polished production seems ready to move from the Tony Kiser Theatre to the other side of Eighth Avenue on a moment’s notice.
Much credit is due to the sensational cast, led by strong-voiced Arielle Jacobs who easily handles Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson’s catchy and heartfelt score. In addition, audiences can delight in the clever sets by Tobin Ost, complemented by Caite Hevner’s gorgeous projections and Gregg Barnes’ fun costumes, which provide significant visual appeal.
Still, some judicious trimming is in order before its next incarnation. There’s just a bit too much exposition and repetition in the first hour of the story (which features a script by Timothy Allen McDonald) as the socially awkward Delilah (Jacobs) struggles to adjust to living in a new town after her parents’ divorce.
She can barely communicate with her overworked, equally unhappy mother Grace (the heart-wrenching Julia Murney, who can handle a bitter ballad better than anyone) and has instantly earned the enmity of her school’s queen bee Allie McAndrews (superbly performed by Aubrey Matalon at my performance) and her loyal minions (played by Will Burton, Jerusha Cawzon and Sean Stack).
Further, Delilah is so shaken up she can’t even accept the genuine friendship of the wise-cracking and preternaturally wise Jules, who is taunted for being non-binary (played by the brilliant Wren Rivera, who uses they/them pronouns in real life).
For solace and escape, she turns not to her usual companions like Dostoyevsky, but a children’s fairytale called “Between the Lines,” and comes to believe she can communicate with its hero, the handsome and kind Prince Oliver (a perfectly cast Jake David Smith), whom she envisions as her perfect lover. But when Oliver manages (at least in Delilah’s mind) to transport Delilah into his storybook world, she realizes she has some tough decisions to make about the direction she really wants her life to take.
I particularly enjoyed the storybook-land scenes, which occur in both acts. They are funny and whimsical, with the entire cast sharply doubling as its fictional characters. Once again, Murney makes the strongest impression as the alcoholic, tart-tongued Queen; Burton, as the human-like dog Frump, gets to shine in a second-act dance number called “Out of Character”; and there’s a terrific female-trio called “Do It for You,” sung by Rivera, Cawzon and the protean Broadway veteran Vicki Lewis, who marvelously embodies five separate characters throughout the show.
Nonetheless, it’s best for the show that we don’t linger too long there, as the plot gains some steam – and Delilah gains some confidence – when she ends up back in the “real world.” And while she finally takes some action to write her own story, some may quibble with the show’s expected “happy ending” and how exactly it’s achieved.
However, given that young women (especially teens and tweens) need some immediate encouragement about their future given our country’s recent regressive policies, the show’s message is what ultimately matters. And since it’s presented this smartly, I won’t be surprised if there were lines around the block to get tickets if the show transfers to Broadway.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Neighborhood: West 40s
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