Re:ACTION: Inspired by the Album How We React and How We Recover by Jason Robert Brown

“Eagles! The eagles are coming” says Pippin Took in Lord of the Rings. In they swoop, creatures unseen in those parts for quite some time. But now they have joined battle. “The eagles are coming”. The American eagles are finally back in Edinburgh too and it sure is great to see them. I don’t mean recent American retirees, spending their grey dollar, seeing the Castle and Tattoo on Tuesday before doing York, Bristol and Cardiff on Wednesday. I mean the whooping, hollering, “yeah man”ning High Schoolers, roaming around unfamiliar streets with backpacks, baseball caps and expressions of starry eyed innocence. Their American Dream is a full house and a standing ovation.

Re:Action speaks for young people of the Covid generation

It is eighty such youngsters from Denver School of the Arts in Colorado that have swooped into town to present re:Action, their enthusiasm infectious and invigorating. Students put the whole thing together, writing dialogue and organising choreography. Heck, one of the students, Ben Feldman, even sent out the press release. Impressive.

If you want a good, fresh faced, Disneyesque teen musical, then this show is for you. Re:Action speaks for young people of the Covid generation, telling their story of lost opportunities. We see a typical bustling American high school. Cassidy gets together with Jordon – forget Troy and Gabriella, this High School musical bravely puts Troy with Troy. And then Covid strikes. The scenes that follow are as recognisable in English schools as American ones. Online lessons. Housebound children. Masks. Social media the only form of communication. All set against a backdrop of contemporary events, told on screens through a series of films (this well executed and story-enhancing use of technology being an outstanding feature of this production).

When it sticks to its central story, this musical is wonderful, crossing High School Musical with Come From Away and drawing on the catchy music of Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown for its songs. Chase Mackay (Cassidy) and Grayson Allensworth (Jordan) show courage, majestic singing voices and fine acting skills in telling the story of their very modern relationship. Tristan Regini is a very likeable Sam and I want to hear more of his story, the juvenile victim of parental loss of business amidst COVID’s ruinous disruption of the economy. There was a bimbo of each gender in Sparrow (Aliya Levin) and the irritating Riley (Jack Lindstrom), both characters very effectively realised. At least I hope they are acting. Best of all, there is a bouncing, bubbling, joyous ensemble of 26 who largely remain on stage throughout, telling their story with sunny upland charm.

There is a caveat. This show becomes much less convincing when it drifts off into issues peripheral to the central tale. Nicole Siegler (Crystal) has plenty of worthy things to say about black rights and I agree with them all but it still feels shoe horned into this show. Similarly, a whole section about gun control (including a song) and comments on funding for state education, interesting though they are and despite having my sympathy, distract from the powerful central story. When these issues feed directly into the show’s central themes, they do enhance the performance, never more powerfully so than when the issue of universal free healthcare costs another young life. But for the most part, they are an unnecessary outpouring of righteous teen indignation. Stick to the essentials and, unlike us during Covid, this musical could really go places.

God Bless Young America! Go back smiling to your lockers, your home rooms and your proms. I can’t wait to see you again next year.

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The Blurb

Sweeping new musical inspired by three-time Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown’s celebrated solo album, How We React and How We Recover. Three years in the making, re:ACTION captures the American high school experience of the past few tumultuous years – tackling COVID-19, lockdowns, loss of small businesses, mass shootings, Black Lives Matter, homelessness, sexuality and more. Delves deeply into love, loss and grief. Explores how we react to upheaval, and how we recover. It’s a story so personal it’s universal.

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