A tsunami of good vibes rolls over “Trevor: The Musical,” an upbeat, kids-friendly tale told in song about a bullied but hopeful middle school boy who is sorely tested by and abused for his just-emerging sense of his sexuality.
A pre “It gets better” era period piece anchored in the music of gay icon Diana Ross, it’s based on the Oscar-winning 1994 short film “Trevor” and the outreach-and-counseling non-profit that the film inspired, The Trevor Project.
The composing/writing team of Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis (“Southern Comfort”) walk a delicate line. They’re trying to tell a story about an eighth grader so humiliated and shunned after being labeled “a pansy” that he attempts suicide, and tell it in a way that won’t be harsh, adult and kid-unfriendly, so that kids Trevor’s age can see it and see that there’s hope, that people do get through this and that suicide isn’t the answer.
Their musical doesn’t quite commit to its subject matter, and rarely dazzles as it dances its way around it. “Trevor: The Musical” has pluck and real kids with just-hit-pubertyish voices and kid-simplified choreography awash in positive messaging in a show that feels seriously dated, if worthwhile in the attempt.
The film, basically a filmed production of the play just after closing night this past April, preserves the stage show and celebrates its one glorious conceit. Trevor (Holden Hagelberger), a small town kid all about “making daydreams out of dust,” gets counsel and comfort from 1981 era Diana Ross, played with a slinky, all-embracing vivaciousness by Yasmeen Sulieman.
So the score’s syrupy, instantly-forgettable solos, duets and anthemic chorus tunes “My Imagination” and how Trevor “Can’t Wait” for the “day of my destiny,” are utterly outclassed by Sulieman’s lovely renditions of snippets of “Do You Know?,” “It’s My Turn,” “Upside Down,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me,” “Endless Love” and “I’m Coming Out.”
The story has Trevor, unable to get in the school talent show by acting/singing out all the parts of “Fame,” stumbling into the idea of choreographing the annual drag turn in “tutus” by the school jocks. Out go the tutus, in come the lads in a white tie and tails, hat and cane chorus line straight out of a ’30s musical.
That effort, working closely with star jock Pinky (Sammy Dell), trying to convince the jocks that “Men dance — Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Tommy Tune!” turns out to be Trevor’s undoing. Because every school has its homophobes, and some of them are also Mean Girls.
Two actors (Sally Wilfert and Jarrod Zimmerman) play all the adult roles — the homophobic PE coach, the less-than-understanding talent-show coordinating teacher, the Reagan Assassination Attempt-obsessed parents, and the Catholic priest Trevor is forced to consult. Not one of these characters makes an impression.
The best things about the show are Sulieman’s singing, and how Diana-mad tween Trevor interprets the songs and uses them as holy texts giving guidance to his confused sexual feelings, which he’d rather ignore because of an “artistic” bent that craves the spotlight.
“Diana says ‘Get back up and try….” “Diana says. ‘I can’t lay down and die!'”
Disney’s even-more-tentative film of “Better Nate than Never” avoided even using the word “gay” in describing its narcissistic hero, so filming “Trevor” and releasing this during Pride Month has merit. Their corporate timidity, which hasn’t protected them from Florida’s “Don’t say gay” free-speech quashing governor’s rage, means they’re never going to be guilty of “recruiting” by simply telling this story, or having a same-sex couple in “Lightyear.”
But as mere inclusion in their films and the musicals they choose to present is earning the otherwise gay-friendly company abuse from bigots and bigotry-exploiting politicians, the time for timidity is past. Well-intentioned and “inoffensive” by design content as namby-pamby and entertainment-thin as “Trevor: The Musical” isn’t accomplishing much of anything.
Cast: Holden Hagelberger, Sammy Dell, Isabel A. Medina, Aryan Simhadri, Alyssa Emily Marvin, with Yasmeen Sulieman as Diana Ross
Credits: Directed by Robin Abrams, based on the stage production by Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis, choreographed by Josh Prince, directed on stage Marc Bruni, A Disney+ release.
Running time: 1:54