The Brothers Grimm would agree

The new musical Between the Lines is struggling with itself to be another Dear Evan Hansen or a brand new Purple Rose of Cairo. Luckily, the Woody Allen wins on the creative team. (Sorry, I’m still watching some of Woody’s masterpieces.) Between the Lines opened at the Tony Kiser Theater on Monday.

Just as fictional characters try to escape a movie in Purple Rose, the prince (Jake David Smith) and some of his companions in Fairytaleland lament being stuck in a book and having to repeat the same story over and over again. If Between the Lines follows these awesome guys, the book by Timothy Allen McDonald and songs by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, to use a Disney cliché, are absolutely adorable. Smith even manages the amazing feat of making sexy look very funny.

The Brothers Grimm would applaud, as these fairytale characters are also a bit vulgar, which is a wonderful surprise for a musical based on the young adult novel by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer and aimed at a teenage audience. Don’t let the show’s pedigree put you off watching if you’re old enough to vote, and have been for a few decades.

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Jeff Calhoun’s almost always imaginative directing effectively conveys the more lewd thoughts of a 17-year-old girl, Delilah (Arielle Jacobs), who in the book harbors vivid sexual fantasies about the prince. Her classmates make fun of her for reading a fairy tale, somehow forgetting that her age group is single-handedly turning the Harry Potter books into a publishing/movie/theatre/t-shirt giant Has.

If only Delilah wasn’t such an after-school special character. She’s much more Evan Hansen than her Bible namesake. You’ve seen this teenage character before: freshman at school, nerd, misfit, bespectacled intellectual raised by a single mother (Julia Murney) who’s too busy with jobs to notice her child’s suicidal tendencies. Luckily, Jacobs doesn’t weep his way through the show like Ben Platt did in his sob Tony-winning performance in Dear Evan Hansen and also his deservedly derided performance in the film version. The advantage Platt had was that Evan Hansen is a chronic liar. Delilah lacks that edge, and while she doesn’t shed tears over a nasty Instagram post, she’s kind of teary throughout. Her predictable confrontations with Mama are particularly bleak.

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The upcoming Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo avoids this family squabble problem by using it for comic relief, and the parents there never reform. Sarah Silverman didn’t learn that lesson, and her sentimentalized parents in The Bedwetter scuttled this new musical. Delilah and her mother are also about to capsize “Between the Lines”. Is there anything more predictable than teenage angst? Yes, it’s songs like “Start Again Tomorrow”, “Leaps and Bounds” and the inevitable female empowerment bomb “I’m Not Through”. If only.

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What saves the show alongside the fairy tale crew are several bright spots on the reality side, including Delilah’s quirky teachers (Vicki Lewis triumphs in multiple roles), her school therapist (John Rapson), and those bullying classmates (Will Burton, Jerusha Cavazos). , Aubrey Matalon, Sean Stack). All are clever foreshadowings of their far more colorful fictional counterparts. Samsel and Anderson even give them two of their cheekiest songs, coming back-to-back in the middle of the first act, “Inner Thoughts” and “Mr. Darcy and Me” bring “Between the Lines” to the Musical Theater Valhalla.

Delilah, troubled by her romantic fantasies, asks a literature teacher if she’s ever had such thoughts about a fictional heartthrob. Lewis replies in the affirmative, calling the show “Mr. Darcy and Me’, complete with a brunette Fabio being ripped from the sides by Jane Austen. The school’s four villains immediately outdo this musical winner with the throbbing “Inner Thoughts,” which is so good at examining the psyche of teenage bullies it begs for a sequel. When will a bully shed his supporting status and be the star of the show?

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At Delilah’s high school, the only other wet sweatshirt is Jules (Wren Rivera), the non-binary character who befriends her. Jules is essentially Jo from Jagged Little Pill before they became a lesbian on their way to Broadway. Luckily, Samsel and Anderson spare Jules the kind of screeching solo a la “Bones” that made Lauren Patton a Tony recipient for mimicking the creature that rips out of an astronaut’s stomach in “Alien.” The McDonald’s book gives Jules some clever answers that show us how a non-binary person can be just as evil as the bullies. Rivera has far more fun in Act 2 as she plays a deliciously seductive mermaid leading a trio of fish in the rousing Do It for You, a siren warning for women who believe the promises of a handsome hunk.

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Murney also explodes when she gets to take off her mom jeans to play the fairy tale’s domineering queen. Otherwise, their kitchen table songs belong more to a flattering musical.

Calhoun doesn’t just take a break when mother and daughter are alone on stage. At these moments, the otherwise brilliant design team also leaves the premises. The set by Tobin Ost, the costumes by Gregg Barnes, the lighting by Jason Lyons and most notably Caite Hevner’s whimsical projections are obediently brought back to life once the prince and his company reappear. It is the difference between inspired and automatic pilot.

“Between the Lines” looks like Broadway. All this fairy tale needs is a good witch to cut away some of the human fat that comes from smaller, sugar-crusted musicals.

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Between the Lines opened in New York City on Monday.

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