Fringe review: 'Awesome Alliteration: The Magical Musical'

By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

It seems as though each year, at least one Fringe show becomes a dark-horse hit. Sometimes it's artsy, sometimes it's freaky or raw, but it's always homegrown, a substantial effort, rough enough at the edges to feel real, and usually memorable. This year, so far, Awesome Alliteration: The Magical Musical, looks to be that show — on a Saturday afternoon in mid-run it filled the house on the top floor of the Adrienne Theatre on Sansom Street, with some audience members already there for their second round.

Awesome Alliteration is much gentler than the in-your-face shows that usually fit the bust-out-of-the-Fringe bill. It's an altogether likeable two-act musical that skews public education in all its facets: teaching, administrating, and being a student. It's filled with so many puns — both obvious or better — that are taken literally by the characters, the show could have been crafted by the team that brought us Rocky and Bullwinkle decades ago and made the vagaries of English a sort of stock in trade and a basic part of the plot.

BetaMale Productions is the local team that created and produces the show, about a naive Jewish kid who's just graduated college and joins Teach For America, the national corps of newly-minted grads placed in big-city schools without any teacher training but with ideals and lots of know-how.

Here, the young guy (Pat Shane) is assigned to Media Res County High School, where the principal (Andy Kind-Rubin) and the mayor-superintendent (Will Harrell) are dead-set on following rules no one can explain — a no-idiocy-left-behind policy perfect for training martinets but not thinkers. The school district has de-fanged the classics so that only bland rewritten copies are available, banned all idioms and has a no-toleration clause for using literary devices.

If that's the sort of set-up that makes for midnight cabaret material, it would be enough, but Awesome Alliteration merits its two acts by moving through them with a developing plot, clever songs and some pleasant choreography by Caitlin Gutches. Our clueless hero eventually gets into trouble by trying new ideas alien to the district's policies, and although no one could call Awesome Alliteration a serious indictment, it sure seems that its goofy extremes point to the realities of running schools and classrooms. 

The show's book and score are written by David Orlansky and Joshua Levin — both Philadelphia-area residents who were Philadelphia Teaching Fellows, a program much like Teach For America; the two were laid off by the Philadelphia School District, but remain teachers in the area. Their third partner is Andrew Scott Zimmer, who wrote one of the songs, orchestrated the show, directs it and leads the three-piece accompaniment.

Awesome Alliteration is scheduled to run on weekends through the festival and beyond it, with a final performance Sept. 30. Teachers alone could probably happily fill the seats.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

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Awesome Alliteration: The Magical Musical: $20. 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Sept. 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 22, 2 p.m. Sept. 23, 8 p.m. Sept. 28, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sept. 23. Adrienne SkyBox, 2030 Sansom St. (120 minutes) 

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