Review: "Loveville High" Podcast Serves Up Bite-Size Broadway To Go

Loveville High: A Prom in Nine Musical Podcasts

Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik

Music by Eric Svejcar

Available at https://www.lovevillehigh.com/

Hailey Kilgore & Conor Ryan. Photo via Kampfire PR
The high-school musical genre is one I have always been attracted to without knowing exactly why. I think I can put the pieces together to make sense of my attraction, but the most important piece in the equation is the fantasy factor of the genre. High-school musicals, from Grease to High School Musical, allow a type of projection onto my own high school experience that enables me to relive it the way I would have liked it to be—freak flag unfurled with minimal consequences for waving it. This was the brilliance of Glee—even though the show lost its way. And this is just the musical front of the genre. The high-school genre is seemingly endless, and this makes sense for several reasons. First, it is a reference point most of us have and can be easily universalized by show writers. But there is also something about the genre that is fantasy projection. We all want a do-over. A new addition to the genre gives us just this.

Harrison Chad & Troy Iwata. Photo via Kampfire PR
Loveville High: A Prom in Nine Musical Podcasts, written by David Zellnik and Eric Svejcar, is a musical podcast that cashes in on the throbbing libidos that high school dramas have always used to set up their conflicts. The episodes follow the sexual tension between sets of adolescents at their senior prom. One couple struggles through their thought process of what people will think of her cheap prom dress and his rusty pickup truck. Another couple meets at the prom when a new guy in town approaches another guy who is dressed like David Bowie and eschews gender identification. The third couple is dealing with the dilemma of the girl being pregnant at the prom. Her water eventually breaks, and she has to head to the hospital. The fourth couple is working through what the guy thinks of as polyamory and the girl thinks of as cheating. When she discovers his multiple Tinder conversations with other girls, she pushes him off the roof of the high school—her calculations beforehand prove he won’t die from the fall.

In my estimation, the best of the numbers comes in episode five where Kyle and Noah, best friends, are talking in the locker room. Noah tells Kyle, as he is bandaging him up from his fall off the roof, that he has something he has something to confess. And just as you think all your gay, locker-room dream projections are going to come true, Noah confesses he is in love with Kyle’s girlfriend. It is this sort of turn of expectation that makes Loveville pure fun. Loveville certainly reaches for its woke bonafides by having a range of couples with different ethnicities, orientations, and classes. The requisite wokeness, though, does not distract from the actually compelling characters and their genuine concern for what others think about how they will react to their actions.

The creators of Loveville take up the high school musical genre in a new and rather attractive way. The music includes solos and duets belted out in good old-fashioned Broadway style. And the performers are as exciting as one would expect a crew picked here and there from Broadway shows would be. Kathryn Allison comes from Aladdin, Gizel Jimenez from Avenue Q, Harrison Chad from Les Miserables, and Conor Ryan from Jesus Christ Superstar. Loveville is enjoyable simply from a musical standpoint, but it also delivers on the tried-and-true core of any venture into the adolescent psyche. Describing the musical, Zellnik and Svejcar say they wrote it “because we wanted to celebrate the moment of risk, heartbreak, and joy when the wild strangeness of love comes into clearer view—usually when you’re young, always in the moments you least expect it.”

Loveville High touches on forms other than just the high school musical. It is reminiscent of song-cycle musicals never meant to be staged as musicals, like Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 Songs for a New World. Substantively, my biggest complaint is the reliance on and obsession with high school love. Sure, it the central trope in the high school musical genre. But for a musical that opens space for critiquing so many aspects of adolescent life, it shies away from the critique of love-obsessed teens and how detrimental to the futures they dream of that love can be. But I am old, so what do I know? I have always found it strange that adults obsess over the love lives of teenagers. The simplicity of Loveville is attractive. Its tight setup that covers just the few hours of the night of the prom allows the action to coalesce into a single narrative. The initial duets seem to cover individual romances, but once it gets to episode 5, we find the narratives raveling and unraveling together.

The podcast renaissance is no joke, and Loveville’s success as a podcast-only musical should come as no surprise. In thinking about the podcast renaissance, Kevin Roose says the relative lack of expense of podcasts, the increased quality of them, and the fact that “cars are going online” have all contributed to the boom in podcasts in the last few years. Loveville might be a sign of things to come, and let’s hope so. We are seeing several podcast-to-screen moves with Homecoming being the first podcast to show and the first season of Serial literally never leaving us alone.

Aside from the podcast platform of Loveville, there is something that always brings us back to contemplating young love. Perhaps it is the simplicity of it, but that is a wrong reading of adolescent love. Loveville High is successful in showing just how complicated those first negotiations over matters of the heart usually are. And high school might be one of the last safe places to explore those negotiations—that is unless you go up to the roof.

-Joseph Donica

Editors' note: Loveville High will be in concert one night only, on June 17, 2019 at The York Theatre (619 Lexington Ave., Manhattan). The performance is free and reservations can be made by clicking this link

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