They Chose Me!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 21, 2006
The most important thing I can say about They Chose Me!, which is my first exposure to the work of TADA! Theater, is that the kids on stage seemed to be having a total blast. In a way, nothing else about the show matters: here are 22 diverse youngsters, ages 10 to 18, getting the opportunity to perform in an original musical comedy created for them by a top-notch team of professionals, and not only pulling the thing off with style and finesse but with an energy that's infectious and heart-warming. TADA!, led by Janine Nina Trevens (who directed this particular show), seems to know exactly what it's doing.
They Chose Me! deals with the subject of adoption. Using a concept-musical format (borrowed, as lyricist and co-librettist Michael Colby has said, from A Chorus Line), the show puts nearly two-dozen characters on stage, all of them kids who have been adopted, and lets them share their experiences with each other and the audience. A great deal of ground gets covered in the course of the high-energy hour, including the ups and downs of foster care, fantasies about birth parents, and the special issues attendant with being of a different racial/ethnic background from your parents and siblings. There's a fun comic number about being the son of two lesbian mommies (put over with great style by Sam Levin, who is one of the most talented of the youngsters in the cast). Another, deftly performed by Sydney Fishman and Jasmine Perez, offers a spirited look at a Puerto Rican girl seeking out her roots. Perhaps the most perceptive song is "Not the Right Thing to Say," a rousing chorale about the stupid comments that well-intentioned people often make that can prove hurtful to an adopted child.
The show is unapologetically postive about the adoption experience; it ends, after all, with a title song that essentially affirms that adopted kids should feel good about themselves because their parents chose them. I wondered if a little more balance, offering some of the less rosy aspects of the adoption experience, might have made for a richer and more textured piece. (My sense is that TADA! is more about creating fun, positive entertainments than strong dramatic statements, however.)
Trevens's staging and Joanna Greer's choreography are solid throughout, and the kids, despite a clear range of sizes, shapes, skills, and levels of ability, execute all of the intricate work like consummate professionals. The company benefits enormously from a splendid design team, especially Shelley Norton, whose costumes—a collection of coordinated trendy casual clothes ideal for this age range—are niftily pleasing to the eye. The set by Peter R. Feuchtwanger and the lighting by Steve O'Shea serve the show beautifully as well.
The score is by Ned Paul Ginsburg (music) and Michael Colby (lyrics). The music is upbeat and pleasant, and Colby's lyrics are smart and clever. It occurred to me in places that both could be more in tune with the cast's sensibilities: the score feels rooted in traditional musical theatre styles, and some of the lyrics (for example, a reference to Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball in the song about fantasy birth parents) seem a little out-of-date for kids born in the '90s. Nevertheless, the songs are all charmers, and they're played with terrific verve by the three-piece orchestra led by Joe Colleran.
Certainly a great time was had by all the friends and family members rooting for the company, as well as—as far as I could tell—the hard-working young people on stage. If they get as much out of their time working with TADA! as they're able to give back to the audiences, then this program is very successful indeed.