Phone Wrecks

It's a classic fish-out-of-water story: sheltered rich boy Brian (Brad Standley) is encouraged by a high school teacher to get out and see the world before he graduates. He ends up at an urban peer/crisis hot-line center, fielding the streetwise volunteers who are tougher than some of the suicide calls.

Not an idea you'd immediately assume would make a good musical, but after a touch-and-go first half, 24 Hours works remarkably well. Robert Hartmann's score for this new production developed by Cal State Fullerton is a memorable blend of rock & roll, ballads and gospel. Bruce Goodrich's lyrics are deeply moving, and the ensemble delivers the whole package in fine, vibrant voice. Of particular note: Landon Beard's white-hot male stripper, Scott Manuel Johnson's Holy Roller ex-gangbanger, Daniel Canady's sweet-natured gay boy, Regan Tedder's motherly senior counselor, and Standley's befuddled innocent.

The biggest flaw is the question of individual motivation. It's assumed the young counselors are doing the phone gig out of a sense of public responsibility, helping those in the boat they were once in. Having worked as a phone counselor to troubled teens and adults myself, that doesn't ring true. Counselors aren't always salt-of-the-earth types. For some, it's a power trip, some a form of therapy, and some a way of working off a jail sentence via public service. There are voyeurs, codependents and some who even make it a profession. A good rewrite would speak to that variety of experience.

One might also reasonably complain that 24 Hours is too influenced by Rent. The songs need a tweak because they sound too similar, and there are a few too many reprises. The production cries out for a staging more theatrical and less derivative than the one it gets here. The characters need to be better fleshed-out. Goodrich's script should trust the audience and dynamite the melodrama.

So it has a few flaws, but they're all flaws that can be overcome. To my mind, 24 Hours is worth your hard-earned cash because it contains the single most relevant message in recent musical-theater history: when life is tough, pull your head out of your ass and do something to make the world better. Connect. As simple as it is, few of us grasp it, so it's a message worth repeating.

If they keep that relevant message and address the existing problems, Goodrich, Hartmann, and Cal State Fullerton are going to have a monster on their hands, and what a wonderful monster it will be.

24 Hours at Cal State Fullerton's Recital Hall, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3371. Thurs.-Fri., May 17-18, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 6:30 p.m. $11-$15.


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