A Musical for the Tween in All of Us” is the catch phrase on ads for “Wanda’s World.” Whether there is in fact a tween in all of us is open to debate, but there’s no question that the creators of this new Off Broadway musical have concocted a bright and endearing musical comedy.
Wanda Butternut (Sandie Rosa) is a pre-teen who seems to have everything: intelligence, warmth, a TV talkshow called “Wanda’s World” playing nonstop in her imagination and a singing-and-dancing canine pal who seems to have been raised backstage at “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Wanda also has a grapefruit-sized, raspberry-colored birthmark along the side of her face that would turn Michael Crawford white in horror.
Unsurprisingly, on her first day at a new school — Cheese Valley Middle School — she is ostracized by the girls, who nickname her “Splotches,” while being thrust into the middle of the school election. The show’s 85-minute journey allows time for everyone to reach the consensus that Wanda is “cool,” while the inhouse school TV network even nudges her imaginary talkshow into reality.
“Wanda’s World” is, refreshingly, not based on a movie but devised from an original story by composer-lyricist Beth Falcone and librettist Eric H. Weinberger. Falcone’s score is cheerful and inventive, filled with jokes for the tweens and wit for the adults.
Her big girl/boy duet, between Wanda and class football hero-presidential candidate Ty Belvedere (James Royce Edwards), is a pizza song called “Not Everyone Eats Cheese,” which generates cascades of laughter.
Weinberger matches Falcone with good-natured humor spread across the proceedings like Cheez Whiz. (The world of “Wanda’s World” is cheese-obsessed for reasons that are not exactly clear.)
Director-choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett (“Swing!”) keeps her fidgety pre-teen characters jumping in the movement-intensive musical.
The creative team is very much abetted by scenic designer Beowulf Boritt (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). Working on the smallest scale — a handful of wheeled platforms (with school-hall lockers on one side), four-or-so wooden benches and a projection screen covering Doug Oberhamer’s four-man band on scaffolding above the action — Boritt’s set looks smashing.
The opening number itself — on Boritt’s royal blue set, with Wanda’s imaginary backup quartet dancing up a storm in blue dresses with white buttons — gets the show off to a friendly start. Jennifer Caprio’s costumes, Aaron Spivey’s lighting and Matthew Myrhum’s projections provide strong contributions.
One wonders, though, why there are 11 actors singing their hearts out into headphone mics in a 100-seat, 10-row theater that shouldn’t require artificial amplification.
The creators have chosen to cast their 12-year-olds with performers who appear to be twice that age; in this case, it works, perhaps because it is done obviously and unapologetically.
Rosa ably carries the proceedings with a smile. Royce does a good-natured turn as the not unnaturally conceited quarterback; Chris Vettel does double duty as that friendly dog and a dimwitted teacher; and Leo Ash Evens makes a humorous villain as P.J. When comic dancer Valerie Wright comes out in a polka-dotted mantilla and does a mock-Spanish dance (“Diva Latina”), what could be embarrassing turns out to be an artful and funny burlesque.This limited-run production by Amas Musical Theater is clearly intended as a stepping stone, but whether “Wanda’s World” can compete with more worldly tween titles like “Legally Blonde” and “High School Musical” is a question only auds can answer. Nonetheless, Falcone, Weinberger and Taylor-Corbett have loaded the small stage with artistry and good humor.