The Outsiders – Fine Production of An Also-Ran

“The trouble is, grownups write about teenagers from their own memories, or else write about teenagers from a stand-off, I’m-a-little-scared-to-get-close-they’re-hairy view. Teenagers today want to read about teenagers today. The world is changing…” Susan Hinton, in her late teens, author of The Outsiders -New York Times August 1967

Two Tulsa, Oklahoma gangs, the “Greasers” and the “Socs” (upper middle class kids in letter sweaters), each claim a side of town. Despite upper hand, Socs are the aggressors. There’s no race or religious difference. Division is a matter of privilege. Though gang warfare continues, today’s public prioritizes other concerns. It’s difficult to believe that audience hasn’t seen one or several of iterations of the iconic West Side Story, which is far too similar and, in its fame, overshadows.

Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis), Jason Schmidt (Sodapop Curtis), Brent Comer (Darrel Curtis), Sky Lakota- Lynch (Johnny Cade)

Narrator Ponyboy Curtis (Brody Grant) writes the first paragraph of The Outsiders in his journal: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind, Paul Newman and a ride home.

The boy’s parents died in a car crash. Older brother Darrel (a touching Brent Comer) acts as parent to cheerful slacker Sodapop (Jason Schmidt; token beefcake) and Ponyboy. Having had his life “stolen,” Darren is responsible, but bitter. Ponyboy is the only one with a potentially better future. He’s thoughtful, poetic, and good at school. Extracurricular reading is currently Dickens’ Great Expectations which in song, becomes a personal anthem.

Sky Lakota-Lynch (Johnny Cade), Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis)

Ponyboy has a penchant for film. Unfortunately the theater is in Soc territory. Leaving a movie one day he’s summarily beaten – to unconsciousness – by a pack of brutal Socs. Still, Darrel can’t talk him out of leaving the gang. Best friend Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch) has suffered the same fate. Third in the fraternal triangle is Dallas Winston (Joshua Brown), an ex con and expatriate New Yorker, savvy and protective of the younger boys.

Unconditional brotherhood is more important than the hero’s burgeoning relationship with Cherry Valence (Emma Pittman), a Soc whom he serendipitously encounters and much to the surprise of both, with whom he connects. It’s Cherry who unwittingly pours oil on the flames provoking jealousy of boyfriend and Soc leader, Bob (Kevin William Paul). At an inevitable confrontation, she sees his true colors and backs away. Ponyboy gets home past curfew. When angry and concerned, Darrel hits him, he runs out meeting up with Johnny.

The Dance

The boys wander into a local park talking of running away. Lead by Bob, Socs corner them. Vicious revenge would have killed him had Johnny not reflexively drawn a borrowed switchblade. The scene is vividly manifest. Bob falls. (Socs will later tell Cherry they were just having fun.) Ponyboy and Johnny run to Dallas for advice. He sends them to a neighboring church to hide out.

There’s declaration (not homoerotic), opportunity to run, and unexpectedly heroic action. Ponyboy shares a poignant (and erudite) Robert Frost poem whose resonance later circles back: Nature’s first green is gold,/Her hardest hue to hold./Her early leaf’s a flower;/But only so an hour./Then leaf subsides to leaf./So Eden sank to grief,/So dawn goes down to day./Nothing gold can stay.

Emma Pittman (Cherry Valance) and Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis)

A rumble, more death, confusion and PTSD follows. Unlike most homogenized Broadway versions, to its credit, this production pulls no punches. An afterlife duet helps Ponyboy adjust. The musical’s ending is not precisely faithful to the novel, but even mostly telegraphed, it works.

All the principals, five making Broadway debuts, are excellent, Brody Grant a find. The young actor offers a believable accent, loose limbed physicality, palpable sensitivity and spirit. As Johnny, Sky Lakota-Lynch is painfully sympathetic. Joshua Boone’s Dallas has Shakespearean presence.

The Rumble

The musical is as sincere and affecting as it is derivative. Your call.

An effectively taut book interweaves Ponyboy’s narration. Youth makes a difference. Playing teens, young actors are obviously older. This audience seems to have no trouble accepting them. The hero’s age, however, might be raised from 14 to 16 for credibility further stretched by the protagonist’s love interest looking (not acting) too old to believe. Guitar-centric music has an apt, folk rock, Midwestern feel.

Director Danya Taymor does a splendid job of channeling energy and using the whole of the stage.  Characters react like pinballs. Wood planks and tires are creatively employed. Violent scenes are powerful. (Don’t bring young kids.)

A choreographed rumble (Rick Kuperman/Jeff Kuperman) plays viscerally. Actual dancing is emphatic, roiled, and tough, original enough not to need the occasional acrobatics. The scene at a dance (like West Side Story) oddly offers jitterbug rather than 60s moves.

“Sceneography” (set?) by design collective AMP and Tatiana Kahvegian, with its metal framework, wood slats and gravel (synthetic rubber granules) evokes the yards and alleys to which the boys are relegated. Use of real cars is marvelous. Stained glass in the church is simplistic and unartful.

Hana S. Kim (projections), Brian Macdevitt (lights), Jeremy Chernick/Lillis Meeh (special effects) creatively enhance drama and disaster as well as conjuring fire and rain.

Costumes by Sarafina Bush look decidedly street without Broadway influence.

Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: THE GREASERS (Top Row) Jason Schmidt (Sodapop Curtis), Renni Anthony Magee (Steve), Daryl Tofa (Two-Bit), Tilly Evans-Krueger (Ace), Sky Lakota-Lynch (Johnny Cade), Joshua Boone (Dallas Winston), Brent Comer (Darrel Curtis); (Front Row) Brody Grant (Ponyboy Curtis)

The Outsiders
Book by Adam Rapp with Justin Levine
Music and Lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, Justin Levine)
Based on the novel by SE Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s Motion Picture
Directed by Danya Taymor

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre  
242 West 45th Street

About Alix Cohen (1751 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.