HOOKED ON HAPPINESS at Theater for the New City

The cast of “Hooked on Happiness”. Photo credit: Russ Rowland

HOOKED ON HAPPINESS is an original climate change musical tackling the crisis through the perspective of a high school drama class. Two students Kim and Eric are inspired to create their own production after a heated debate on the beach where they commiserate on the inability of their parents to snap out of misery and embrace positive action. They infect their class with their enthusiasm and soon they are co-opting their teacher to allow them to write their own response to the climate crisis instead of doing the old standards of OUR TOWN or HELLO DOLLY!  for the yearly school play. The antagonists of the piece are the conservative parents who are Fundamental Christians sitting in front of their televisions waiting for Armageddon.

Tom Attea is the creator of the book and lyrics for the production using the “play within a play” structure. After the initial three scenes where the idea is born, sold to the teacher and executed with edits, we move into a compilation show of global warming themed songs and links. The music is composed by Arthur Abrahams drawing on a multiplicity of children’s musical genres for the concert. It is always great to have live musicians on stage and Peter Dizozza, Ralph Hamperians and Art Lillard, on piano, bass and drums, keep the groove going throughout the 75 minutes.

The strength of the production lies with the formidable cast of energetic, talented performers bursting with youthful optimism. Hannah Carne, Spencer Martinez, Leonard W. Rose, Jordan Rubio, Jazz Sunpanich, and Hannah Weaver are a powerful triple threat force. All are accomplished actors, singers and dancers tackling the material with gusto and earnestness. Hannah Carne, as Kim, is particularly brilliant in the lead role and has a massive presence. Leonard W. Rose, playing Eric, opposite Carne is also a glorious talent with a gift for comedy. Liz Bealko, as the drama teacher, gives us the perfect example of the actor turned teacher still desperate to be on stage, using the teens show to sate her unfulfilled theatrical dreams. I particularly enjoyed her tap dancing polar bear cameo’s.

Mackenzie Surbey’s choreography was delightful and precise. Director Mark Marcante ensures a tight, well rehearsed, fast-paced, high energy production. I particularly enjoyed Lytza R. Colon’s costume and prop design – neat, quirky and perfectly executed.

Although there were some impressive elements of the show (namely the cast), I had a few major problems with the production. The musical compositions seemed to be geared to a kindergarten or junior school audience with very sing song melodies you would use for younger children to remember the tunes. I don’t believe that high school students would create that level of musical genre simplicity. These child like melodies were juxtaposed with more ‘adult’ lyrics which didn’t marry well for me. I felt like this show should have been workshopped with actual high school students to give an authentic feel to the work. The fake interactions from the invisible parents at points in the show seemed implausible as there wasn’t anything on stage that seemed offensive in any way. It seemed like the production was sending up the bad school play genre but the subject matter is serious, so at times it felt like climate change was being ridiculed. I wasn’t sure what the cohesive message was of the play. I would suggest simplifying the lyrics and performing some of the songs of the show for junior schools as an introduction to global warming or rework the piece so that the music reflects the age of the students portrayed in the work. It seemed strangely old fashioned like these teens were from a bygone era and didn’t represent the youth of 2019 who sail around the world to bring awareness to climate change or make impassioned speeches to the UN.

With apologies to Pirandello, this seemed like Six Characters in Search of Authenticity.

Running time: 75 Minutes with no intermission

The production is slated for a limited engagement, running from November 7th – December 1st at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue). Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and can be purchased at the box office (212-254-1109), online HERE or by phone at (888) 549-4106.

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