“The Outsiders” is a tough story with a resilient heart

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A group of six men hugging and laughing
The Outsiders: A New Musical (Photo from Telecharge)

The Outsiders is difficult to describe. It’s a serious coming-of-age story set in the Tulsa of 1967, yet it is told through music and dance. It’s kind of reminiscent of West Side Story, but that show’s racial conflict is replaced by class war. It is a story of family circles — families of blood relations, families of kindred spirits — with their own internal strengths and conflicts, interconnected with those of rival families. It’s a show that defies you to like it but will settle for nothing less than your respect.

Based on S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel and the 1983 film of the same name, The Outsiders follows 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis (Brody Grant); his two older brothers, Darrel (Brent Comer) and Sodapop (Jason Schmidt); and his soft-spoken best friend Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch). The Curtis boys are orphans due to a freak accident; Darrel gave up college and a promising football career to become the head of their household. 

Tulsa’s two teen gangs, divided by class, are the upper-middle-class “haves” in West Tulsa, known as the Socs (pronounced “soshes”), and the working class “have-nots” in East Tulsa, known as the Greasers. Having been beaten up by the Socs and their smarmy, sadistic leader Bob (Kevin William Paul), Ponyboy is inducted into the Greasers in spite of Darrel’s disapproval by the group’s de facto leader, ex-con Dallas Winston (Joshua Boone), whom Ponyboy idolizes. Tensions escalate, especially when Ponyboy is befriended by Bob’s girlfriend, Cherry Valance (Emma Pittman). 

The book, by Adam Rapp and Justin Levine, and the score, with music by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and lyrics by Levine, take a long time to find their storytelling tempo in the first act, even with a pulse-pounding opening (“Tulsa ‘67”) that introduces all the major characters, major anthemic songs for Ponyboy (“Great Expectations”) and Darryl (“Runs in the Family”), and the sweetly romantic “I Could Talk to You All Night” for Ponyboy and Cherry. Once it does, from the frenetic first-act finale right through Rick and Jeff Kuperman’s brilliantly choreographed, climactic battle sequence to the finale, the audience is on an emotionally gripping thrill ride.

While the scenic design (by AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian) seems to be in the mold of standard Broadway utilitarian, there are some beautiful lighting effects by Brian MacDevitt, evocative sound designs by Cody Spencer and projections by Hana S. Kim, and amazing special effects work by Jeremy Chernick and Lillis Meeh. Sarafina Bush’s costumes subtly delineate the differences between the Socs and the Greasers.

The Outsiders’ proud defiance makes it hard to like, but it tries hard to deserve your respect, and more often than not wins it. It’s not a rags-to-riches story, and it is not the Oklahoma of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but in its way it evokes attitudes of not all that long ago — and which still emerge at times today. I recommend you take the trip to Tulsa and visit The Outsiders.

The Outsiders is at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on West 45th Street in New York. For more information, visit the show’s website at outsidersmusical.com; for tickets, visit the show’s website or go to Telecharge.com.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.