- Last Updated: 4:40 AM, May 5, 2012
- Posted: 10:14 PM, May 4, 2012
Bullying wouldn’t seem to be something to sing about, but somehow, the TADA! Youth Theater managed to find a musical about it just the same. It’s called “Up to You,” and young theatergoers can probably relate to its themes — not only because they’ve been bullied themselves, but because it’s performed by more than 30 children, ages 8 to 18, members of the company’s resident youth ensemble.
Set in 1977, it’s about a high school senior, Wendy, who’s running for student-council president. Her best friend, Eric, is running for treasurer, but he has a secret: He’s gay, and his most treasured possession is a bracelet inscribed by his boyfriend.
When several other students find out, he becomes the target of merciless bullying.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, “Up to You” — recommended for ages 5 and up — is a fun hourlong romp with upbeat songs, some “Saturday Night Fever” moves and a clever bit, performed in fedoras and trench coats, about election spying.
So rapt were young theatergoers at a recent matinee that it wouldn’t be surprising if many of them took up TADA! on its preshow invitation and auditioned for future productions.
When the troupe asked composer Eric Rockwell to write a show about a high school election, he didn’t realize it would get so personal. He says he didn’t plan to use his own story in the piece, but rather “stumbled upon it.”
“I had moments when I was writing it . . . that I got choked up,” says Rockwell, who remembers what it was like to be bullied while he was growing up near Lake Tahoe, Calif. “Here I am, 52 years old, and I think that some of my demons were finally exorcised.”
Luckily, he says, he had the full support of artistic director Janine Nina Trevens.
“I knew as the story was developing that I was getting into very dangerous territory,” he says. “But she didn’t blink . . . she had no fears. I was so moved.”
The message is handled so discreetly that parents needn’t be worried about having a difficult talk afterward. “It had to be delivered in a way that kids who are ready to understand it can, and the younger ones can grasp it on their own level,” he says. “For instance, I never used the word ‘gay.’ ”
And the bracelet that figures so prominently in the story?
“That’s an actual piece of jewelry that I wore to the opening night of the show,” Rockwell says. “And it does have an inscription on the back, from my first boyfriend.”
“Up to You” runs at TADA! Youth Theatre, 15 W. 28th St., through May 20. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children at tadatheater.com/currentseason.asp.