Jack Kerouac must be beaming from his beatnik perch in heaven these days. Years after he wrote his seminal work, On the Road, two gifted wunderkinds have modernized his “fabulous yellow roman candles” in the new show The Mad Ones.
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s new coming of age musical wonderfully captures the pain and angst of teenage life. In the process, it reflects important, contemporary themes that go above and beyond the usual clichés of being brave and finding oneself.
Best friends Kelly (Emma Hunton) and Sam (Krystina Alabado) are at a crossroads. With high school graduation approaching, they hatch a plan to take a road trip across the country—much to the disapproval of Kelly’s statistician mother, Beverly (Leah Hocking). For Beverly, college is the only logical step because “girls get one shot and don’t get to fail.”
Sam’s boyfriend, Adam (Jay Armstrong Johnson*) rounds out the cast as a sweet, but mostly unmotivated lover who is deemed unworthy by Sam’s circle of connections.
The Mad Ones takes some time to generate momentum and the first twenty minutes could use some overhauling in order to fully engage the audience. At first glance, it could easily be dismissed as another coming of age tale. As it progresses however, it ends up being a bold proclamation of female empowerment. Musically and thematically, the show shares similar contemporary elements as Next to Normal, Dear Evan Hansen, Spring Awakening, and American Idiot. Like them, there exists a core of frustration and a desire for ultimate freedom. Wisely, it has carved out three female characters to fulfill these wishes.
Conductor Jeremy Robin Lyons and pianist Paul Staroba make this small orchestra sound much fuller and richer than its four members. The entire cast have their moments to shine and vocally, each of them are in fine form.
The Mad Ones has a solid foundation. With some careful tweaking and alterations, it has the potential to become a popular hit, particularly among millennials and theater newbies. In spite of Beverly’s observation that, “On the Road glorifies the patriarchy,” The Mad Ones defies this notion with its exultation of strong and determined women.
*Please note that the role of “Adam” is currently being played by Johnson. Original cast member Ben Fankhauser is scheduled to return to the role on December 5th.
The Mad Ones is currently being presented by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 Street Theaters (between Park and Madison) through Dec. 17th. For tickets and information, click here.