On-Key Comedy

It's the High School Musical of the a capella world mixed with the comic sensibility of Will and Grace . Part unabashed schtick and part schmaltz, Perfect Harmony , the Clurman Theater's latest offering about two high school acapella groups preparing for the national championship, is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining. This is in no small part due to clever writing by Andrew Grosso and to the able timing of most of this young and spirited cast, and in particular, to Sean Patrick Dugan and Kathy Searle in their dual roles.

The premise is fairly simple. There are two a capella groups, the uber-victorious Acafellas and the underappreciated Ladies in Red . Each group is comprised of distinct personalities that rub against each other in a desire to determine the direction of the group and the musical numbers to be presented at the national championships.

In the Acafellas , Senior "Pitch" Lassiter A. Jayson III (an appealing Vayu O'Donnell) has an artistic crisis-of-conscience that prompts him to want to expose the "ugly" underneath the "beautiful" in the music in order for it to be truly artistic. This move pits him directly against Philip Fellows V (Benjamin Huber) who is dead set on maintaining their successful formula and winning the national title at all costs, and by any dubious means.

Rounding out the Acafellas is a hunky former quarterback named JB (Scott Janes) who catches the eye of talent scout Kiki Tune (a hilarious Searle); a mute boy who sings, well named Jasper (Clayton Apgar); and Simon Depardieu (Dugan), a nebbishy freshman with a mouth full of canker sores.

The Ladies in Red are led by perfectionist Melody McDaniels (a crisp Dana Acheson) who must keep the nubile Meghan Beans (Amy Rutberg) from turning her conservative choreography into that of a Britney Spears video and/or stealing her boyfriend. Equally, Russian renegade Michaela (Searle) must be prevented from randomly changing the words to the songs-in-progress. Meanwhile, shy Valerie (in a lovely turn by Margie Stokley) is acutely glance-phobic and needs confidence boosting, while Turret's-striken stage manager Kerri Taylor (Nisi Sturgis) constantly blurts out obsenities at inopportune moments.

Musical numbers are woven into the groups' rehearsals and interspersed with monologues from individual a capella group members as well as members of their greater community, including a School Psychologist (Apgar) and a Vocal Therapist (Stugis). The musical performances themselves are certainly less effective than the irony that accompanies them.

Director Andrew Grosso uses the stage fully. The set design by Eliza Brown is simple but effective; and Becky Lasky's costumes (from naughty schoolgirl to icky talent manager to spacesuit and floor length plaid skirts) are tongue-in-cheek and contribute greatly to Perfect Harmony's overall effect of being well-produced.

Rather like Sour Cream & Onion Pringles or cheerleading movies like Bring It On , this show is a guilty pleasure. Its plot is so predictable at times that it almost shouldn't be as fun as it is to watch. And yet the writing is full of tiny, quick verbal surprises and original moments, and the cast is uniformally high energy. Recommended as an summer outing for a young audience.

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