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STAGE REVIEW

Young cast aside, musical has growing to do

GLOUCESTER -- It may need some perking up -- and, at two hours-plus, some paring down -- but Barry Wyner's world-premiere musical, `` Calvin Berger," loosely based on `` Cyrano de Bergerac," may one day prove a boon to high school drama teachers everywhere. Not that your average student will easily equal the college-age-and-beyond quartet currently performing this chamber musical at Gloucester Stage. They're pretty much perfect -- more than a match for the material, which could use some tweaking.

Composer/lyricist Wyner's songs, with their unmemorable melodies, serve either to sketch character or to advance the action, and there are rather too many of the former variety. One major stumbling block is the script's failure to establish, at the outset, why Calvin (Nick Blaemire ) is so fixated on his nose: Without benefit of prosthetic enhancement, the kid is perfectly presentable, indeed handsome.

If Wyner's point is that in high school the slightest deviation from the physical norm assumes gargantuan proportions, that notion needs to be highlighted more effectively than it is in the opening ensemble number, ``Security Meltdown." Calvin's ensuing lament, ``The Elephant in the Corner," is merely redundant; his second-act opener, ``Mr. Potato Head," an ode to the spud/ ``stud" with the removable proboscis, gets the point across more succinctly and wittily.

All four characters have their adolescent anxieties. Calvin's sardonic gal-pal Bret (Gillian Goldberg ) frets that her backside is too big, and the hunky new kid, Matt (Austin Lesch ), worries how he's going to fit in. Even Calvin's dream girl, Rosanna (Briana Carlson-Goodman ), has a hang-up, albeit a benign one: She yearns to be ``special" -- a craving that Calvin's flowery missives, delivered via Matt, will serve to assuage.

It's unfortunate that the most Hallmarkish of these (``Friendship Is . . .") gets recited twice: once as a love note, and again as the linchpin of a charity bachelor auction, where MC Rosanna gets a burst of confidence by amusing the crowd with the idiocies uttered by her now ex-boyfriend, Matt, and Calvin gets a taste of his inner hottie.

The device of having Rosanna milk Calvin's gaffes for laughs might be clever, but it's counterproductive: (a) the material's repetitive (tell us something we haven't heard), and (b) the ploy is out of character for this kind hearted soft touch, whom Carlson-Goodman plays with appealing warmth.

The most enjoyable scenes are those between Calvin and Matt, especially when they're codependently boasting ``We're the Man!" Lesch brings an exuberant physicality to his role -- especially helpful in a musical that lacks dance numbers -- and of course, as the dim if attractively packaged bulb, he gets the funniest lines. Blaemire holds his own, though, as a teen Machiavelli whose heart proves as big as he imagines his nose to be. And Goldberg, as the fourth wheel, carries off a couple of torch songs touchingly.

While Stephen Terrell's direction isn't especially imaginative, `` Calvin Berger" works well as family fare: There's a bit of frank language and innuendo, but nothing more than you'd encounter in a typical sitcom.

But that's the show's downfall as well. Its observations are `` After School Special" pat and lack the bite and bounce of, say, `` Hairspray," or the vivid characterizations that impel `` The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." A bit more workshopping should hone it further. Its flaws, like Calvin's, could easily be overcome.

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