Adolescent angst finds a voice in the affecting musical “Inappropriate,” which seeks to detail in music, poetry and movement the inner life of some troubled teens. Deeply felt and solidly packaged, the show captures a certain zeitgeist, with kids chronicling sexual abuse, addictions of all sorts, and multiple other reasons for their emotional difficulties, all with a sense that the sharing of their turmoil is the means of escaping it. While it can occasionally be grating in its drama-as-therapy approach, “Inappropriate” has enough honest sparks to be moving and enjoyable.
An announcement at the beginning of the show informs us that this is “not a work of fiction,” that “the stories are real,” and, most strikingly perhaps, “the actors are real.” Considering, however, that the performance then begins with a movement-poem depiction of a fetus, the intro clearly requires some decoding. The show provides a collection of songs created from the poetry of students at the DeSisto boarding school in Massachusetts, and the Los Angeles premiere stars most members of the original cast who took this show from the school to Off Broadway.
While the poppish music and the general tone here seem inspired by the musical “Rent,” the structure and concerns are closer to the late 1970s monologue-driven musical “Runaways.” The songs here tend not to tell individual stories as much as communicate a shared sentiment of alienation.
The opening number, “Our World Within,” sums up this approach with the ensemble belting the lyric: “Does anyone understand me/Or wish that I was someone you could forget?/Does everyone think I’m crazy/Or am I just inappropriate?”
There are plenty of running themes here, all of which anyone who was ever a teenager can relate to.
Sometimes, the material is specific enough to be revealing, but mostly the show concentrates on being “universal.” For that reason, perhaps, the performers can seem to be hiding behind the character types they’re playing; they’re willing to share with us, but only up to a point. “Inappropriate” occasionally threatens to become incredibly powerful but then pulls back into the generic.
The only narrative thread here follows the performers Averie Boyer and Elizabeth Irwin, who reappear throughout as two very different teens trying to form a bond that goes beyond mild friendship. Boyer plays a boy who just can’t let his guard down enough to let others in. Again, the sentiment is general rather than specific, which keeps the story from becoming truly involving. But Boyer — the most compelling of all the actors — carries off the dramatic moments well, and is even more appealing when he’s allowed to express more joyful sentiments.
There’s a sense of ensemble here that’s pleasurable in and of itself and each performer supports the others rather than trying to outshine them. Directors Ray Leeper and Michael Sottile have certainly brought this group of raw young performers to a professional level. The energetic staging of the musical numbers “I Wonder” and “Mexico” is especially polished.
The production design from Shane Ballard is strong, although the graffiti on the scrims seems contrived. S. Ryan Schmidt’s lighting is similarly effective if sometimes overly edgy in feel. These design issues represent a quality of the show that demonstrates the odd conflict at work in “Inappropriate”; it desires to explore dark elements of humanity, but it actually finds its truest identity when it’s happy. Then again, happy isn’t always hip.