//Ad libs: Freeway follies

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Freeway follies

The classics are classics for a reason, but how many Rizzos and Eponines does the world of high school theater really need? So it was refreshing to see something new cruise across the Palo Alto High School stage last night: an original musical, "Love Songs in Traffic," penned by school choir teacher Michael Najar.

“Traffic” focuses on two star-crossed lovers (is there any other kind in musical theater?) battling over building a freeway extension in
South Pasadena. Najar calls the performances “the first step in what I hope will be a successful creative process,” and there is still roughness in the road. A couple of the duets are muddy, with their parts running together; and there are several lines rolling perilously close to cliché. The relationship between the lovers could also be further fleshed out.

But the concept is fresh and many songs have a zing, such as the tango-y “Don’t End Up in Reno” and the cute ode “My Beautiful Car.” Loved “The Morning Paper,” in which the hilarious Tim Goble as perspiring Caltrans boss Tyler bemoans the negative press coverage of his transit agency. You can watch a clip from this number below.

In other comments on the performances, the chemistry between the two leads (Jovan Bennett as Caltrans worker Dave and Kat Cravens as freeway opponent Sarah) is sweet, and Jovan has nifty comic timing.

But the true show-stealers are the Greek chorus of Aaron Jones, Martin Gutfeldt, Danya Taymor and Nicole van den Haak, who croon and gab as various charismatic radio personalities in between each scene. The radio device makes perfect sense in a world of commuters whose lips often move in time with their car stereos (very funny when it happens all over the stage at the same time).

DJ Aaron especially cracked me up as Pavel, a beer-swilling DJ for a college radio station no one listens to; a Mexican radio host; and a bursting-with-hubris on-air evangelist. Kid, you’ve got moxie.

With me in the audience last night was Ron Evans, who shot some video of the performance (with permission from Michael Najar). It includes clips of the songs "The Morning Paper" and "You'll Never Know Us." Ron also took the above photo of the front of the Paly theater.