Helen on 86th Street (by Nicole Kempskie and Robby Stamper) is a musical tale of 12-year-old Vita, a precocious New Yorker, who is dying to get the lead role of Helen in her school's original musical, The Trojan Horse. Based on a short story by Wendy Kaufman, the musical follows Vita as she aspires be the star of the show, all in hopes that her dad, who left to travel the world without her and her mother, will return to see her in the play.
The production, which concludes this Sunday at American Theatre of Actors, is a joy to watch. The story is simple but well represented -- the music is fun and the lyrics are sophisticated and weave Greek myth sensibilities with contemporary perspective seamlessly. There are some really great numbers that allow for cool dance sequences, and the creative choices of how to use the space are very effective.
But perhaps the best part of the show is how it is a solid vehicle for young actresses. The idea of a bunch of female students competing for the role of Helen is a premise with a lot of room for play, and this show definitely makes the most out of its talented younger cast. I can't say how refreshing it was to see a show that showcased so many dynamic female roles and featured them in choruses. I can't imagine many young female performers who wouldn't want to be in something like Helen of 86th Street -- and it was great to see a piece that provides those roles in a smart, charming package.