San Fernando Valley elementary school educators Bob Arnold, Hank Amigo and John Balbuena have created a musical from their experiences dealing with economically deprived students grappling with low self-esteem, dysfunctional homes and street life. Resulting tuner makes up in energy and unabashed commitment what it lacks in professional fluidity.
Helmer Arnold admirably guides a 44-member ensemble through the coming-of-age saga of a young Latino destined to be swallowed up by an educational system that had him programmed for failure. His eventual realization that he can transcend his upbringing is dramatically predictable but still fun to watch.
Buoyed by the zesty Latin jazz-tinged score of musicians Amigo, Balbuena and Nick Scarmack, tuner traces the immense pressures beating down on Young Alone (Kevin Aleksanyan) as he struggles to maintain his equilibrium. Aleksanyan is still in the process of becoming comfortable with his own voice, but he offers emotionally viable renderings of Young Alone’s sense of hopelessness (“No Way, No Where, No How”); his love for his mother (“Mi Querido Mama”); and insidious self-doubt (“I’m No Good”).
The scripters emphasize that it takes a community of caring, committed adults to mentor, nurture and protect children like Young Alone until they reach the maturity and confidence to take control of their own lives. This is emphatically realized when Young Alone learns he can’t sidestep no-nonsense teacher Mr. Mendoza (Amigo).
The difficulty of Mendoza’s task is underscored by Young Alone’s confrontation with his life-defeated drunk of a father (Dennis Ruelas), who admits he is no role model (“Bad Dad”).
Act two introduces Older Alone (Kevin Campos) as the boy moves on to high school. Campos is a confident thesp who offers veracity to Alone’s burgeoning romance with childhood friend Patty (Jesenia Bernal). Their romantic duet “I’ll Lift You Up” is one of the show’s highlights.
Proceedings are enlivened by an adroit eight-piece instrumental ensemble led by co-creator/music director/keyboardist Balbuena, as well as the streetwise choreography of Christina Tyni and Tig Pena’s supportive sound design.