I have been waiting for more than two years to see Trevor: The Musical. The show was originally set to debut off-Broadway in the spring of 2020 and I was planning to fly to New York to see it. Then COVID happened. When it did finally open in the fall of 2021 I was still out of work, and then the run was cut short by another surge. Thankfully, before the sets were struck the cast got together for a final performance or two, resulting in the filmed version of the show that premiered on Disney+ on June 24.
So was it worth the wait? I’ll put it this way: Trevor: The Musical is the best middle school musical I’ve ever sees. I don’t mean that Trevor is cheap or amateurish – it’s a professional off-Broadway production that would have been Tony-eligible if the theater it played had just one more seat. What I do mean is that Trevor is a musical about middle school experiences and emotions and the whole aesthetic is attuned to that. If you come into the show expecting helicopters and chandeliers or show stopping numbers for big voices you may be disappointed. But if you go in prepared to give your love to a 13 year old who really needs it, I think it will leave you with as big a smile on your face as it did me.
The 13 year old in question is Trevor Nelson, a Diana Ross super fan whose golden dream is to become a big star by way of the school talent show. His one man production of select scenes from Fame is judged to be a bit much for a junior high audience, so as a plan B he talks the football team into letting him direct them in a song and dance number. Along the way he develops a secret crush on star player Pinky Faraday, and when that crush becomes not so secret… well, it’s 1981. You do the math.
Unsurprisingly, how well all this works rests on the back of the actor playing Trevor, and newcomer Holden Hagelberger bears that weight admirably. It’s hard to overstate how good the 13 year old actor is in this role. Trevor is a kid who feels big emotions and Hagelberger wears them all on his expressive face without a hint of pretense. Long time commenters know what a stickler I am for age appropriate casting, and Trevor: The Musical is a great example of why that is important. When Trevor does his best Diana Ross impression or reacts to a spontaneous hug from Pinky there is an adolescent awkwardness to those gestures that I don’t think you can fake. And when, in a darker moment, Trevor decides to take a drastic action, it means something that we are looking at the tear stained face of a real barely-teenager making that decision.
The rest of the cast is solid too. Sammy Dell brings a lot of depth to Pinky, depth that unfortunately the script does not give him enough chances to explore. Aryan Simhadri and Alyssa Emily Marvin earn laughs as Trevor’s horny best friends. Trevor’s parents as well as most of the other adult characters are played Sally Wilfert and Jarrod Zimmerman, total pros who bring impeccable comic timing and even a little pathos to those roles. Yasmeen Sulieman as Diana Ross of course can’t live up to the real thing, but she’s still a winning presence as equal parts Greek chorus and guardian angel.
The biggest flaw of Trevor: The Musical is that it is an overly faithful adaptation of a short film from 1994 and thus limited in its ability to reflect the progress in representations of queerness that has been made since that film premiered. I wish writer Dan Collins had found a way to retain the central characters and outline of the story while being more adventurous with the details. Maybe don’t set it in 1981. Maybe let Trevor make a connection with another Diana Ross fan his own age, and then spend some time with that relationship. Maybe let them say the word gay more than once. The basic message of hope in the original story still resonates, but there was room here to do more.
- The filming of the show is mostly very good, apart from a few awkward shots that catch actors making expressions that probably read just fine to a live audience but that look weird in close up.
- I have no idea what Hagelberger has lined up next, but if they are currently casting for More Than Half a Man: The Angus T. Steakflower story, he should definitely send in a headshot.
- But seriously, no disrespect to Rueby Wood, but I wish they had waited an extra year to adapt Better Nate Than Ever; Hagelberger would have been the perfect Nate.
- There are a couple of clips on YouTube of young actors from other productions singing emotional solos (“Stranger” and “Invisible”) that are not in this version. I’d be really curious to see how the show has evolved since it first premiered in Chicago in 2017.