Fountain of youth springs from musical pastiche

Moving Too Fast, a musical revue of Broadway’s accumulated wisdom about growing up, went up at the Adams Memorial Theatre on the last weekend before classes end. Directed by Ben Kaplan ’11, the show grabbed the subject of fading youth by the scruff and made it dance and sing.

The revue operated within a simple, snappy structure: a musical revue split into three acts covering childhood, adolescence and postcollege young adulthood, punctuated by relevant monologues on chewing gum, cross-dressing and hearing your boyfriend call you “ugly” along the way. Kaplan had a lot of Broadway fodder to choose from – there is no shortage of songs and monologues addressing childhood, adolescence and the great beyond. I was surprised that selections from Stephen Sondheim’s rumination on the passage of time, Merrily We Roll Along, didn’t make the cut, but even without it, the revue achieved an intelligent balance of unease, hope and cynicism in its characterization of getting older while you’re still young.

One of the show’s best surprises was the return to the stage of Jenny Schnabl ’10. The only senior of the group, Schnabl hadn’t been in a production since her Frosh Revue debut in fall of 2006. She seemed at home in each role, conveying the joys and anxieties of the age. Her singing voice was strong, precise and tuneful, and as Lucy in “Book Report” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Logainne from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, she was funny without being cartoonish. In ensemble numbers she sung a bit loudly, and in general there was something endearingly jostled about her performance, all of which only seemed to add to her charm. I don’t know where Schnabl is going after graduation, but if there’s a stage there, I recommend she be on it.

Another standout performer was Peter Skipper ’13, who brought talent and verve to all of his parts, from a fragile sadness in his Charlie Brown monologue (“I guess lunchtime is among the worst times of day”) to his handling of the revue’s title song, “Moving Too Fast” from The Last Five Years.

The choreography of the all-male number “The Bitch of Living” from Spring Awakening glowed with exercises and chair-moves inflected with rage and pent-up sexual energy. Some other songs, however, begged for movement of some kind and instead had none. The performance of “I Can See It,” from The Fantasticks by Rob Gearity ’11, as well as, ironically, “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked by Lucas Bruton ’11, were both strangely unchoreographed solo numbers in which the singers didn’t quite seem to know what to do with themselves.

In contrast, Margy Love ’12 commanded her rendition of “Stars and the Moon” from Songs For A New World, in which she merely stood unmoving center stage against a backdrop of a starry sky. She delivered both the humor and the pathos of the song about a woman who turns down a loving suitor in favor of a rich one, only to realize her mistake years later.

Justine Neubarth ’13 delivered Violet Beauregarde’s monologue about her gum-chewing prowess from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and in facial expression and tone she evoked the Violet from the original movie without giving a copycat performance. Tess McHugh ’11 delivered one of the show’s dramatic monologues from Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty. The text seemed to be a self-indulgently lengthy rumination about hearing that your boyfriend called your face “regular,” but McHugh’s delivery didn’t quite access the complexity of emotion that rumbled underneath the self-indulgence. The monologue performed by Thomas Casserly ’12 from A Chorus Line, a rumination on a teenager’s parents’ discovering that he was a cross-dressing entertainer, came across as quietly captivating, hitting all of its notes of anxiety and muted pride.

As an ensemble, the group worked together seamlessly. During the ensemble number opening the second act, “Hello 12 Hello 13 Hello Love” from A Chorus Line, actors transformed the stage and their costumes from playroom to high school and played out tiny, one-line scenes: “Oh, darling, you’re not old enough to wear a bra, you got nothing to hold it up!” says one woman to her son; “Dance for grandma!” commanded Skipper, sitting in a chair and waving around a cigarette, to a grandchild. At times some of the singers were flat, as in “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods and “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle, but on the whole an energy emanated from the stage and overrode any vocal hiccups.

The insights the revue conveyed were subtle but poignant. At every turn, commentary sprouted up that smoothly applied both to the scene on stage and the lives of the Williams students in the audience: a background chorus to “Woe Is Me” sung a familiar, anxious imperative, “Be smart, be cool, be adroit in social situations.” And in the song “Book Report,” Charlie Brown, played by Skipper, belted in frustration, “How can they expect us to write a book report of any quality in just two days? How can they conspire to make life so miserable, and so effectively, in so many ways?” Amen to that.