“Pamela’s First Musical” is a family-friendly tale of the magic of musical theatre

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"Pamela's First Musical" with David Garrison, Sarah McKinley Austin and Carolee Carmello at Two River Theater. All Photos by T. Charles Erickson .
Two Rivers Theatre brings us a wonderful World Premiere

Two River Theatre in Red Bank opens its 25th Anniversary season with the world premiere of Pamela’s First Musical. Let me cut to the chase: This show is, in a word, wonderful.

"Pamela's First Musical with Howard McGillin and Andrea Burns at Two River Theater.
“Pamela’s First Musical with Howard McGillin and Andrea Burns at Two River Theater.

Pamela (Sarah McKinley Austin) has just turned 11. Her mother has passed away, her father Kevin (Howard McGillin) is unable to connect with her, and her elder brothers want their weirdo sister to be more “normal.” Deciding that Pamela needs rescuing, her free-spirited Aunt Louise (Carolee Carmello) whisks her from Connecticut to Manhattan to take her to a long-promised Broadway musical. They meet the musical’s producer Bernie S. Gerry (David Garrison), who invites them to go backstage before the performance to see how a musical is put together. At the theatre, they meet leading lady Mary Ethel Bernadette (Andréa Burns), director Hal Hitner (Michael Mulheren), and leading man Nathan Hines Kline (McGillin in a dual role). Pamela is also introduced to other members of the creative staff before the curtain goes up on the show-within-a-show, The Best Use for Feet — the title an example of the wackiness that infuses this musical.

"Pamela's First Musical with Howard McGillin as Pamela's father and Sarah McKinley Austin at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
“Pamela’s First Musical with Howard McGillin as Pamela’s father and Sarah McKinley Austin at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The appeal of this show for children is obvious: a heroine of their age, feeling alone and out of place, finding her own footing with the help of an unconventional aunt and a warm-hearted theatre community. Older playgoers will get a kick out of references to other musicals in The Best Use for Feet and references to actual theatre artists in many of the characters’ names (among them, costumer Billy Ivey Zippers, choreographer Tiny La Tuna, and composer Cy Songheim and his lyricist/playwright wife Betty). The score is rich with more-than-occasional wit, especially in the song “I Know What I Like” where producer Bernie imitates a powerful theatre critic. Other standout numbers include “Where All the Pieces Fit,” Pamela’s song of longing; “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” a production number consisting of two dancers and a staircase; and Kevin’s song of understanding and acceptance, “You Make Me Proud.

P"Pamela's First Musical" with Sarah McKinley Austin and Carolee Carmello at Two River Theater.
P”Pamela’s First Musical” with Sarah McKinley Austin and Carolee Carmello at Two River Theater.

Pamela’s First Musical is adapted from playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s children’s book by Ms. Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele. Scenic designers David Gallo and Viveca Gardiner have come up with sets with bright colors and a kind of sketchy quality that reflects an 11-year-old’s view of the world. Gabriel Berry’s costumes are a visual delight, from the ridiculous to the sublime, adding to the fun of the performances.

If you love musicals, especially the ins and outs of their creation, you should see this show. If you know girls and boys who are interested in the theatre or are highly imaginative, you should take them to this show. Pamela’s First Musical will cajole you into remembering your own childhood dreams and the longing to find a place where you belong. The show is corny, and charming, and utterly irresistible. Allow yourself to be perfectly delighted by this gem of a production.

Pamela’s First Musical is presented by Two River Theatre at the Rechnitz Theatre in Red Bank through October 7, 2018. For tickets and information, visit tworivertheater.org.