Encore Michigan

Here. Now. This at Monster Box “exhibits” a lot of heart

Review August 22, 2017 David Kiley

WATERFORD TWP.–Should a show, particular a musical, be criticized for being just a little too cute? A little too light? Maybe. But Now. Here. This, now playing at The Monster Box Theatre here, can be forgiven, as can the writers of this bon-bon of a musical, because of how likable the actors are and the fact that, well, it is one of those smile-inducing shows.

Written by the same writers who penned [title of show]–Susan Blackwell and Hunter Bell–Now. Here. This. is similarly a bit of a self-conscious show, but with goofy grins and smiles as the four characters in this show wind their way through a natural history museum outing that sprung from a Groupon deal while they expound, sing and reminisce about the struggles, loves, losses and conflicts of their lives going back to their childhoods.

They struggle with their gayness, lack of commitment to school, their aloof parents, their struggle to be accepted, peer pressure, shame, love, death, sickness…you name it. Of course, everything is fair game, because these four are human—perfectly, flawed humans.

The music is fun and bouncy, but alas, the tunes do not stay in your head. They are as a vaporous as a snapchat conversation. That’s not a bad thing in the two hours of the show, because these four actors, who performed [title of show’ at Monster Box last season (and are nominated for a 2017 Wilde Award) deliver on the story and song with great affection and craft. Directed by Paul Stark and music directed by Dan Bachelis, Here. Now. This does it job of inspiring us to appreciate the moments we are living, rather than maybe dwelling too much in the past or worrying about the future.

Jono Mammal is gay and very smitten with the security guard in the museum, and as one of two gay male characters, also takes us through a heartfelt journey with his grandmother’s decline. Mammal also has terrific presence on stage and can carry his tunes with confidence and, at times, devilish impishness. Theodora Pardales does a fine job of conveying the “every girl” who has or potentially has every problem any young woman can have, and she takes us through a life passage, among others, in which she and her father have a deal to not say “I love you.” Taylor Stark conveys a quality the pretty girl from the wrong side of the tracks that is nonetheless envies by the girls on the better side of the tracks for her attractiveness. Owen Woityra also struggles and battles his gayness, ultimately joins a fraternity (how is this going to go?) and is the eternally ebullient gay theatre kid who can, and does, sing the score of Les Mis while steam cleaning beer out of the frat-house carpet.

The theatre has traditionally attracted misfits, yearners and outcasts who nonetheless aspire to the spotlight. It’s easy to see how the creators of this show were inspired to write this one, as well as [title of show]. The writing is heartfelt if not the stuff of Lillian Hellman or even Jonathan Larson. But it is a friendly, smiley musical diversion, and a story where you root for the characters to get out of the museum in one emotional piece, stay together as friends and go on to live happy lives.