Most adults are loath to revisit their adolescence, a period of awkward growth, confusing mores and naked social ambitions. And yet, adults and kids alike should not miss “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical,” adapted from Jeff Kinney’s graphic novel series and the three films that his books inspired.
“Wimpy” premiered Friday at the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis to prolonged plaudits and the broad smiles of Kinney, producer Kevin McCollum, who is backing this production, and a host of other VIPs. The ovation is well-earned. “Wimpy” is spectacular, with electricity, charm and heart to spare.
Director Rachel Rockwell’s energetic staging is one of nonstop movement. She seamlessly choreographs the actors, set pieces and transitions so that what we see onstage resembles a live-action film. (The two-hour production has 50-plus scenes.)
The music, composed by the songwriting team of Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler, is catchy and clever. The “Wimpy” score draws on show tunes, rock ‘n’ roll, 1960s pop and hip-hop, among others. Conducted with verve by Andrew Bourgoin, it even boasts anthem-like numbers with such titles as “The Middle of it All” and “Animal Heart.”
Nor are the performances anything to sneeze at. The large, talented ensemble is led by Ricky Falbo, a pocket-size star with solid theatrical chops and matching charisma. Falbo plays Greg Heffley, the undersized middle-schooler who desperately wants to gain social status. Greg is stuck in the middle in a world where people are literally ranked by numbers. Cool guy Bryce (Ethan Davenport), he of the cute butt and big bucks, is at the top, where Greg wants to be.
To get there, Greg throws loyal best friend Rowley (David Rosenthal) under the bus. Greg also leads his peers in pretending that classmate Chirag (Om Angarkar) is invisible, negating his existence. And when Greg decides to run for treasurer as another popularity ploy, he lies about opponent Patty (Johannah Easley).
And yet, despite all his meanness, you can’t help but root for Greg. Falbo, a tireless, spirited singer, dancer and actor who moves flawlessly throughout the many worlds in the play, invests Greg with latent goodness and honesty. His good cheer easily wins us over, making us love the sinner and not the sin.
Falbo is surrounded by loads of youthful talent. Rosenthal’s Rowley is a ball of goodness and awkward innocence. Omgarkar’s Chirag also is very forgiving.
Brandon Brooks plays big brother Rodrick, a metalhead with a wicked laugh, with droll humor. Easley, star of another CTC premiere this season, “Akeelah and the Bee,” has a big moment on the “Election Day.” She nails it, channeling ’60s girl group sound with ’90s cheerleader choreography. Keegan Robinson’s Joshie, a Euro pop star, is comic gold.
There is still work to be done yet on “Wimpy,” whose Halloween-themed scene, which closes the first act, drags on a bit. And, no doubt it will change. But for a show that’s fresh out of the gate, this “Wimpy” is an exciting winner.