Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
On one hand it feels very strange to be sent out to review a performance by middle and high school students, even at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, a professional theater where Equity-certified actors usually tread, and even if the show, “Follie Holidays,” can already be called a hit with audiences clamoring for every possible seat.
On the other hand, compare the coverage of theatrical types that make up the large cast (65 total) of “Follie Holidays,” all members of the Rep's dynamic and ultra-competitive Summer Musical Theatre Intensive training program, with the coverage of their peers on the high school football field. During the recent Friday night performance of “Follie Holidays” at the Rep, the mighty ESPN was broadcasting a high school football game in the west part of the city. You could use up 100 barrels of ink (and the equivalent in Internet space) on “Follie Holidays” and you still wouldn't touch the amount of press given to the golden boys of the gridiron.
This is the fifth year that Nicole Capri Bauer's kids have taken the stage at the Rep and the level of talent that's been on display is probably no longer a secret. “Follie Holidays,” an original music revue conceived, directed and choreographed by Bauer, is another immensely winning vehicle for the singers, dancers, actors and actresses that come from Little Rock Catholic High, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock Christian, North Little Rock High School and so on. Bauer has a lot of fun with the theme of holidays and stretches it out to cover every crazy one imaginable as well as the traditional ones.
Maybe the most surprising thing is how deft the timing is throughout the entire show. Forget for a moment how dazzled you are by the singing and dancing and focus on the comic bits — the crazy complicated one between two young men about Funny Handshake Day and Nathan Owens' take on an Adam Sandler tune. Much of the credit to the crispness of the delivery belongs to Bauer, but these kids clearly take pride of ownership in their performance.
It's hardly fair to single out a single musical number among them all. The lead vocals by Taylor Johnson and Jennifer Fuller in “I Sing the Body Electric,” which closed Act 1, were as warm as the sun itself. “Forget about the Boy,” featuring Mary Katelin Ward and Marisa Kirby, was an infectious, exuberant showstopper. Charlie Askew wore the red jacket and took on the Michael Jackson role in a fearless and killer interpretation of “Thriller.” But, truly, there wasn't a bad number in the lot.