Musical about surviving high school is as easy as ‘Rocket Science’
January 1, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
Hal Hefner is accustomed to high school’s indignities and perils.
Besides a tumultuous home life, high school presents a treacherous gauntlet for Hal, a stutterer. The clumsy attempts at romance, friendship and, importantly, earning a spot on the debate team form the plot for “Rocket Science” — a musical created for youth performers and set to open at Village Theatre’s First Stage Theatre on Jan. 5.
The decision to present “Rocket Science” — a musical fostered on the Village Theatre stage in the Festival of New Musicals — is not rocket science, cast members and the director said.
The piece is written specifically for teenagers. “Rocket Science” marks the first time KIDSTAGE performers presented a musical from the festival. The show also marks the debut for the “Rocket Science” musical.
“Rocket Science” is based on the 2007 film, a darling among critics and festival audiences but a limited commercial success. The musical based on the piece received a stripped-down reading — and a warm audience reception — at the 2009 Festival of New Musicals, a summertime showcase for up-and-coming works.
The musical’s director, longtime Village Theatre Artistic Director Steve Tomkins, said the material is more authentic with teenagers in the roles.
“The heart of the show is about high school,” he said in a recent interview alongside lead performers David Ibarra, as Hal, and Katie Griffith as Hal’s romantic interest, Jenny Ryerson. “I’m really excited about the fact that the first production with it involves real high school kids.”
The 17-member cast comes from throughout the region.
If you go
The musical’s creators — librettist Patricia Foster, composer Stephen Weiner and lyricist Jason Rhyne — recreated the same vibe as the film, a dramedy meant to present high school as a social Petri dish.
Weiner is no stranger to Village Theatre. The composer’s musical comedies “Once Upon a Time in New Jersey” and “Iron Curtain” received Mainstage presentations.
Jenny is the queen bee on the debate team at Hal’s high school. Griffith, a sophomore at Issaquah High School and a veteran at Village Theatre and other local playhouses, steps into the role.
“We share so much in common, Jenny and I, and just the high-schoolers in general who can relate so much to it,” she said. “At the same time, she’s so complex and is different from me. It’s fun to be able to relate to her and have the same type of problems that she goes through.”
Jenny picks Hal, stutter and all, to join the debate team. The relationship — as sparring partners in debate and otherwise — forms the crux of “Rocket Science.”
Hal is more difficult to emulate. Even tasks as simple as ordering pizza take on incredible difficulty due to his pronounced stutter.
Ibarra, a senior at Interlake High School, is outgoing and relaxed, a departure from the neurotic Hal.
“There are things that I’m comfortable with that he’s not,” he said. “He’s not comfortable with talking to girls. I’m the complete opposite. I talk to everyone, and even people that I don’t know, I’ll introduce myself.”