WORLD PREMIERE OF “HELL ON EARTH”
IS MORE POP TEEN THAN ANGST GEN Z
This fall a Santa Cruz theatre summer camp launched their new musical HELL ON EARTH at Mt Views Center for the Performing Arts. The world premiere of Hell on Earth: A Musical is produced by The Young Actors’ Theatre Camp. Founding Directors, Shawn Ryan and John Ainsworth, with book and lyrics by Shawn Ryan and music by Michael Sobie. The script and music was workshopped summer 2019 at YATC Santa Cruz location. The project had its official world premiere Nov 15th and moves to New York with a new East Coast Cast January 26, 2020 at the famed Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Director and writer Ryan says when he started to write the musical he wanted to make sure the book would hit home with the Gen Z community. “We had a concept and a show that would come from the perspective of today’s teenager,” said Shawn. “Camp YATC has given us all an amazing opportunity to understand the real issues facing our students today and write directly to their points of view. Not only are you seeing a show about teens, but the actors can relate to these scenarios in their daily lives.”
Both casts are students in the age range of the story, and the adults involved are mainstream professionals. Emmy Award winning Laurie Metcalf (The Connors) is part of the NY company and Bay Area local favorite Jessica Sarah Bennett appeared in the Musical at their November 15th premiere. TV Actor and comedian Jim O'Heir from NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation made a special pre-filmed video appearance at the November opening.
The playbill warn’s “Anyone under 8 will not be allowed in regardless of ticket purchase”. This was intriguing, I was set for a new Gen Z version of SPRING AWAKENING or better yet a rated R 13 The Musical. The indi film 8th Grade also came to mind, but what I found here was no reason to have the word “Hell” in its banner. These kids have it all good. A group of friends mostly girls, worry about a High School field trip and two sisters fight about moving away with their dad. The two and a half hour show opens with the banner song “Hell on Earth” that is more of a pop song than the prelude to dark times.
I don’t write about student actors abilities, all drama kids have a right to any role or be on stage, talented or not. The list of songs are pop fun, and most of the company shows off their keen voices and some don’t. Ryan's songs and Sobie’s music include the basic teen angst classic “I’m in Love” that of course explores a teen gay theme. The song “Scroll” deals with new media and cell phones. No teen sucide, sexual abuse, runnaways or POC in this romp. The highlight is the one edgy song “Worlds Greatest Fear” that deals with a girl stressing over pooping at school.
The casting is disappointing, the company lacks diversity. With so many talented students of color in the greater Bay Area John Ainsworth’s missed the mark. I am sure the tuition for the Camp out prices urban families. I would hope YATC offers an outreach program to encourage Hispanic, Asian, Indian, and Black students the opportunity to show off their theatre skills.
The set is simple with the icon hallway lockers and lunch tables, and a warm lighting design by Tech Director AJ Hamilton. The audio was uneven, but with such a short run that is expected. Choreographer Emmy Frevele worked with a busy cast of 22 that was a bit clumsy but ends with the upbeat ensemble number “Its Time”.
The topic of teen angst has been explored many times in musicals and plays and Shawn Ryan’s take adds to that soft teen theme that any eight year old would enjoy. With some work and better casting this project could have some legs. Congrats as The Young Actors’ Theatre Camp who celebrates 18 years of educating young performers to “Discover and Develop the Artist Within.” YATC is voted year after year as the Bay Area’s “Best Overnight Camp” by Bay Area Parents’. YATC has won multiple awards and was the inaugural inductee into Bay Area Parent Magazine’s “Hall of Fame.” YATC is excited about their New York performance this winter.
YATC DRAMA CAMP
PREMIERES AN ORIGINAL MUSICAL
Hell on Earth:
A New Musical
Book and Lyrics by Shawn Ryan
Directed by Shawn Ryan
Music by Michael Sobie
Produced by John Ainsworth,
The Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
Jan 26, 2020
at Feinstein’s/54 Below NYNY
Tickets for Jan 2020 performance
FIENSTEIN'S New York