Book by David L. Williams
Music and Lyrics by John Gregor
Directed and Choreographed by
Musical Direction by Jad Bernardo & Gayla Morgan
Vital Theatre Company (www.vitaltheatre.org)
The McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, 4th Floor
Non union (through
Reviewed by Judd Hollander
While many school bullies rule through fear and intimidation, all too often they are just as insecure as the people they terrorize, as explained in Vital Children's Theatre's very enjoyable new musical The Bully.
Lenny (Scott Lilly) is your typical grade school nerd. He's slim and wiry, wears glasses, speaks in a whiny voice, is an ace at such brainy subjects as math and history and approaches all physical sports with terror. In fact, his most hated class of the week is gym. Not only because of the various tasks he has to undertake (the latest being trying to climb a rope suspended from the ceiling), but also because he has to endure the taunts of the school bully -- a tall, somewhat brawny kid named Steve (William DeMeritt). Steve, who is a whiz at all things physical, seems to have made it his personal mission in life to torment Lenny mercilessly. Steve is helped in this effort by his various friends (i.e. hangers-on) who gleefully tease Lenny at Steve's urging.
Things take a sudden turn one day when Lenny and Steve accidentally
get on the wrong school bus and find themselves going to a part of the city
they've never seen before. Finally the bus driver (Kyle Minshew, who plays all the adult roles in the production) drops
the two boys off at the
While the major theme of the musical is pretty straightforward
(don't be a bully), there are many deeper messages underneath. Chief of which
is just how insecure grade school kids can be. While it's Lenny who's the butt
of everyone's jokes, many of the students torment him because "when we
make fun of Lenny, no one' s looking at me," as sung in the opening
number. This pattern is also prevalent at the
Another important point explored is that everyone can be a bully without even realizing it. Although Steve's treatment of Lenny is obvious from the beginning, Lenny is not entirely blameless in the matter. It seems Lenny often humiliated Steve in class when the latter didn't know the answer to a question or took too long to respond to the teacher. This in turn made Steve angry enough to strike back at Lenny the only way he knew how. It's only when the two are really forced to talk to each other that Lenny realizes his role in creating the tension between Steve and himself.
All of this information (and a lot more besides) is nicely packed into this multi-song, 55-minute work. David Williams has written a strong and intelligent book, and one which never talks down to the audience. The music by John Gregor is very enjoyable and the lyrics (also by Gregor), while weak at times, work quite well. Credit also has to go to Troy Miller, whose able direction keep the action moving nicely, as well as his coming up with some very enjoyable choreography for the musical numbers.
Also important is that all of the actors in the story who portray students are quite believable. DeMeritt makes an excellent Steve, a guy who walks the walk and talks the talk of a bully, but once in Meg's territory and away from his comfort zone, he gets a large lesson in humility. It's also interesting to watch him come up with ways to outwit Meg; being a bully himself, he knows her weaknesses well.
Lilly is very believable as Lenny, an intelligent kid who takes refuge in his "smartness," without ever realizing his effect on people. His lament about gym class ("gym is pure evil") is a hoot and his general awkwardness make him easily understandable to others who have also felt like outsiders in a school environment. He's also wise enough to realize his own errors in judgment when they're pointed out to him.
Zelenka is wonderful as Meg, the terror of her grade school. This is a kid smarmy enough to have the various teachers wrapped around her little finger, menacing enough to have her classmates jump when she issues orders, and confident enough to expect her commands to be instantly obeyed. Her anthem "Meg's World Now" is one of the highlights of the show. Yet, like Steve, Meg has the problem of all bullies - she doesn't have any real friends.
The only real problem in the production is that DeMeritt's singing voice is weak and often off-key. He works well enough in group numbers, but when doing solo pieces, which happens quite often, his voice is simply not up to the task, thus somewhat lessening the effect of these scenes.
The set by Mary Hamrick is very good. Costumes (uncredited in the program) and lighting (by Christina Watanabe) work well.
Also in the cast are Stephen Stocking, John Magalhaes, Monique Beasley and George E. Salazar.
The Bully is a nicely conceived production - and one which can be enjoyed by both children and their parents.
Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander
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