‘Numbers Nerds’ (Photo: Hunter Canning via The Broadway Blog.)
By Matthew Wexler
Returning for its 14th year, the New York Musical Festival overtakes midtown Manhattan through August 6 with a range of productions in various stages of development. Numbers Nerds is one of the chosen few that was granted a full production slot, and while it’s not intended for the Great White Way, the show proves that there are deserving voices and audiences beyond Broadway that deserve an opportunity for expression.
CPA Theatricals and producer Larry Little saw a need for strong female roles for high schools, colleges and community theaters. Numbers Nerds, a musical about an almost all-girl math team was their answer, and it has plenty of charm to serve those audiences and young theater enthusiasts.
Melissa (Maisie Rose) is captain of the math team, but she’s choked under the performance pressure and been booted off the team by Amber (Tiffany Tatreau), much to the dismay of fellow teammates Mary Kate (Danielle Davila) and Barbie (Madison Kauffman). Leroy (Jake Morrissy), a new male student in the formerly all-girl high school, steps in to join the team, while Melissa gets some anti stage fright coaching from Ms. McGery (Sharon Sachs), the drama teacher-turned-janitor.
As you can imagine, the teenage girls face a variety of social obstacles from popularity and boys to family dynamics — all eluded to throughout Laura Stratford’s occasionally overwrought book. Theater regulars might see similarities to William Finn’s The Putnam County 25th Annual Spelling Bee but without the nuance or catchy score. But David Kornfeld (music), Alex Higgin-Houser (lyrics) and Dylan Marcuarele’s (additional music) score is serviceable with a few standout numbers scattered throughout.
The talented cast (though oddly lacking in diversity) keeps things at a stratospheric decibel level. Given the quick turnaround nature of a festival production, no sound design credit is given, but suffice to say it could have been taken down a few notches. Kevan Loney’s creative projection designs deliver a charming 21st-century backdrop to the team’s tribulations, while Sachs as the shtick-laden Ms. McGery steals (and then graciously returns) every scene she’s in.
Numbers Nerds most confounding equation is its snapshot of today’s teenagers. The broad characters are more reminiscent of middle school children than modern day high school students. I’ve been around enough nieces and nephews to know that typical 16-year-olds have a lot more gravitas and dimension than Numbers Nerds gives them credit for.
Even so, Numbers Nerds fills a void by providing an opportunity for girls to take to the stage in lead roles, and for that, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.