Musical numbers: “Come Into My Jungle,” “Bring in the Morning,” “You” (“Tu”), “Not Your Cup of Tea,” “Ghetto of My Mind,” “Funky Eyes,” “Another Cry,” “I’m on My Way,” “Never Stop Believing,” “Never Stop Believing” (reprise), “Something Is Wrong With Everyone Today,” “Missing Person,” “The Light of Your Love” (“La Luz de tu amor”), “Ghetto of My Mind” (reprise), “Hector’s Dream,” “Trip,” “The Glory of Each Morning,” “Deliver My Soul,” “Bring in the Morning” (reprise).
If earnestness and youthful enthusiasm guaranteed success, the Variety Arts Theater would have its first long-running smash. It’s more likely, however, that “Bring in the Morning,” a collection of songs inspired by an inner-city high school writing program, will find its future in youth theaters and school auditoriums.
Perhaps that’s as it should be. “Bring in the Morning” is based on writings from New York’s Poets in Public Service program, in which professional writers visit schools, hospitals, rehab centers and homes for unwed mothers to encourage youngsters to put their feelings to paper. Though the musings here are heartfelt , results may be more beneficial sociologically than artistically.
Lyricist Herb Schapiro and composer Gary William Friedman reprise the technique that brought them success more than two decades ago with “The Me Nobody Knows.” The poems and stories, usually melding gritty urban reality with an inspirational message, are given pop musical theater sheen and delivered with the heightened emotionalism of a “Star Search” contest.
The combination is more than suitable for school stages. During its Off Broadway life, though, “Morning” will have to work as hard as its energetic cast to find an audience. The show’s obvious target is the age group of its late-teen characters. But that audience will no doubt find the show-tune balladry old-fashioned, the homeboy mannerisms postured and the $ 45 top ticket price beyond reach.
And despite such topical subject matter as AIDS, teenage pregnancy, bystander shootings and a host of other urban ills, the production has moments that are jarringly out of step with the hip-hop culture it chronicles, none more silly than a song about HIV and sexual abuse set to the beat of, of all things, a tango.
“Bring in the Morning” does have its share of bright spots, though, thanks mostly to its cast. Unlike the young writers whose work inspired the songs, the performers are professionals with credits from commercials to “Miss Saigon.” Two of the singers stand out — Inaya Jafa’n and Steven X. Ward — giving rousing performances that rise above the rather conventional staging.
As might be expected, the lyrics are a mixed bag, ranging from public service announcement jargon and adolescent weightiness to some truly clever surprises. In the latter category is “Not Your Cup of Tea,” in which an Asian girl debunks more than a few stereotypes, and “I’m on My Way,” a “Dreamgirls”-like showstopper.
Although Ken Foy’s drab alley set holds no interest, “Morning” has been given an otherwise slick production. Maybe even too slick. This musical might be better served with a more intimate, underproduced feel in which the modest sentiments aren’t lost under showbiz trappings. High school drama teachers, take note.