The show: “Wild, a Musical Becoming”
Written by: Book by V (formerly Eve Ensler); music by Justin Tranter and Caroline Pennell with contributions by Eren Cannata; lyrics by Tranter, Pennell and V; contributions by Idina Menzel; presented by American Repertory Theater
What it’s about: This concert version of a musical fable about a single mom, Bea (Tony Award winner Menzel), is the world’s premiere. She is struggling with her neighbors to keep their family farms afloat, and trying to be close to Sophia (actor/musician YDE). The Outskirtzia teens take on the company offering huge money to lease the land for unknown but presumably nefarious reasons.
It’s there, or you don’t. The multi-genre score is terrific, from the rousing opener of “Mouths to Feed” to the toe-tapping “Paradoxical Dilemma” to Bea’s anthemic “Wild” — and director Diane Paulus makes the most of this strong music with the concert style and on-stage band. However, the story is still in its infancy and will require more work as this musical progresses. Some might argue that it’s too late for subtlety about the climate change emergency, but more character development to soften the caricatures, fleshing out the starkly good vs. evil story, and a less in-your-face approach overall could make the story’s messaging more effective.
Highlights from the show: Watching Tony Award winner Menzel (“Wicked,” “Rent,” the movie “Frozen”) and 18-year-old YDE (TV’s “School of Rock,” “The Haunted Hathaways”) perform is worth the price of admission alone, but the talent and passion for this music and this topic only start there and run deep in this cast. The supporting players are outstanding – especially Brittany Campbell as Oak, Paravi Das as Forte, Luke Ferrari as Possible and the versatile Josh Lamon in multiple roles.
Fun fact: The designers decided to make an environmental statement by creating the costumes for “Wild” exclusively from second-hand, recycled and repurposed materials from thrift stores and vintage warehouses. Denim is the main focus of the farmers, as designers point out in the program that jeans are the most polluting garment in the world to make. “We hope audiences are inspired by our designs and look deep into their own closets to see how they can reuse and repurpose their own clothing,” they say.
It’s worth noting:This show and A.R.T. are pushing for environmentally friendly practices as part of their push. The set is open to audience imagination. The program is also available online. A.R.T. is partnering with local organizations related to climate change and advocacy, and Paulus (also the theater’s artistic director) urges audience members to do the same and act now. She notes that musicals typically take years to reach full production on stage, but “as the climate crisis continues to escalate we couldn’t wait any longer to share this story.”
Another thing: The main cast is backed in several numbers by young people from the Boston Children’s Chorus, both singing and dancing. Their enthusiasm and urgency as they sing lyrics that include “We want you to panic/We want you to act/You stole our future/And we want it back!” make your heart swell and hurt at the same time.
If you go: The performances will continue through January 2 (with Menzel as the lead actor through Dec. 23, Crystal Monee Hall taking over the role of Bea) at the Loeb Drama Center. 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge. Some performances are sold out, but for tickets, starting at $25: AmericanRepertoryTheater.org/WILD. A negative test or proof of COVID-19 vaccine is required.