Review: 'Trevor: The Musical' — A Teen Outsider Outed? Or Keeping Feelings Inside?

by Rob Lester

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 24, 2022

'Trevor: The Musical'
'Trevor: The Musical'  (Source:Disney+)

Entering your teens can mean entering a world of troubles and looking for the nearest exit, whether that be the escape of fantasizing, music and dance, sports, running away from home, getting high in junior high, or something darker and more desperate.

The 13-year-old title character of "Trevor: The Musical" tries one or more of those remedies, but I won't be a spoiler or a spiller of the beans. The show's songs often have as much bounce as the basketball match-up that sets the plot in motion early on. Although our misfit hero is not very athletic, he's kinetic, sympathetic, and energetic. Young actor Holden Hagelberger is an eager beaver in the role, galloping through songs and often striking the raised-arm triumphant pose at the ta-da! ending chord. His portrayal is delivered in broad strokes, alternating between awkwardness and bravado, going from shy glances to dreamy-eyed looks, from wide grin to trembling lips. He rises to the occasion to make the saddest moments the most convincing.

The show, set in 1981, is based on the Oscar-winning short film of the same name (which inspired The Trevor Project, with a suicide-prevention hotline for LGBTQ+ youth), and follows the movie's main elements pretty closely. That includes having an actress play Trevor's diva of choice, Diana Ross, who appears (ostensibly in his mind) to soothe, encourage, and question as he lip-synchs and dances in full bliss to her hits. Yasmeen Sulieman channels the superstar's voice, style, and hair (!!) impressively. The Ross numbers share attention with the original score by composer Julianne Wick Davis and lyricist Dan Collins, the latter also supplying the dialogue.

Many of the songs feel like sung dialogue in plain language, which is appropriate to an angsty, not-so-artful Teenspeak vocabulary and perspective. There are no truly "wow" vocals among the teens (who barrel through with brash spirits), and it's disappointing that the adults don't get to provide much contrast with warmth, wisdom, or maturity. It's a particular shame that the excellent musical theatre actress Sally Wilfert, playing both Trevor's mom and teacher, isn't given a couple of big solos. The most effective vocal comes late in the story, when Aaron Alcarez, as a hospital volunteer, offers support and perspective. "One of These Days" is a nice, twice-used song about imagining one's brighter future.

It's a plus that this Disney-Plus offering preserves the episodic piece, which champions individuality and the struggle for acceptance, by turning the cameras on its recent New York City off-Broadway run, directed by Marc Bruni and choreographed by Josh Prince. The set is pretty simple and, with the exceptions of dance numbers and Diana, the costumes are plain, with lots and lots of horizontal stripes. Some of the numerous characters are more nuanced, realistic, or engaging than others, so some feel more like devices to present points and problems. Sammy Dell is a winner, though, and a warm, shining light in the key role of Pinky, the confident, charismatic jock. His reactions to tentative Trevor ebb and flow, maintaining audience interest and tension.

Trevor is branded as weird and clumsy. He's also plainly elephant -in-the-room gay and closeted — or, perhaps, not even in touch with his sexual feelings. What's in that diary he scribbles in? What's in his heart and head (besides Diana)? Is he crushing on Pinky, and would such feelings doomed to be unspoken, unrequited, unwelcome, and his undoing?

"Trevor: The Musical" streams on Disney Plus as of Friday, June 24; the cast album is released (digital form only now) from Ghostlight Records.

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.