REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Sami Staitman is pretty much your typical 15-year-old teenaged girl. On Sunday afternoon, we journeyed into the Valley to see the Ventura County resident play the part of Molly, pretty much your typical 14-year-old teenaged girl, in a one-girl musical called Welcome to My World, which played at the Grove Theater Center in Burbank.
Welcome to My World was written by the uber-talented Bruce Kimmel, a director and writer who has produced over 180 albums of soundtracks and theater music for his label, Kritzerland. The musical is a sweet, funny, and affectionate look at teens in modern day society, and in Staitman, Kimmel found the perfect performer to deliver his message of what it’s like to be a young girl just entering high school.
The show consists of Staitman, using the name Molly, talking directly to the audience about life as a teenager, with songs accompanied by on-stage pianist Alby Potts. If you can imagine Marcia Brady acting in her own autobiographical show, that kind of sums up Welcome to My World, except Kimmel’s treatment includes frank subjects that were never even hinted at on The Brady Bunch, including sex, P.M.S., and seeing her mother try on a thong. None of this is gratuitous; on the contrary, the things discussed by Molly are more realistic than the story lines featuring teen characters on television sitcoms. As for the language, if you think the show’s script is filled with “Oh-my-Gods” and “awesomes,” that would be too easy. In both the monologs and the songs, Kimmel has done an amazing job writing in Molly’s voice, without resorting to stereotypes. Her running commentary is genuine and believable; it’s almost as if she is every mother’s idea of what a teenager should be like – being one’s own person, not following the crowd, and thinking seriously about the first important decisions a young person can make on their own.
Molly is just a typical 14-year-old who loves junk food, talks too much, likes boys (but not in THAT way), and has an overbearing mom. Her vocabulary is where it should be at fourteen, but Kimmel knows better than to inject “like” into every third word Molly says. She has a mind of her own, and speaks out against things like peer pressure, refusing to condone taking drugs, drinking, having a serious relationship, body piercing, and tattoos.
Unlike her school friends, Molly is in love with the theater. In the song “I Want,” most of the items in her laundry list of aspirations involve roles she’d like to play in the theater, including Elle Woods, Fanny Brice, and Ado Annie. Most endearing is that many of the goals are unrealistic, such as “to get offers without auditioning,” but Molly seems smart enough to know that it would take hard work to earn those next-to-impossible things.
Sami Staitman is currently a sophomore at Calabasas High School. She recently transferred from Oak Park High to take advantage of Calabasas’ vaunted theater arts program. Staitman is attractive and charismatic as the incurably cheerful Molly, with shortish, cropped blonde hair and a strong, clear voice that is perfectly suited for “Annie,” a song in which Staitman sings about auditioning to play the girl in the musical of the same name. Some of the other song highlights in the show include “TMI,” a lexicon of contemporary acronyms we are bombarded with in everyday life, “Fair-Weather Friends,” in which Molly can discern the difference between acquaintances and real friends, and “Dancing With Me,” an affectionate tribute to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (with Staitman wheeling out life-size cutouts of the two screen legends, which are mounted on rolling set pieces).
Although a lot of the show is light-hearted, there are some poignant moments, such as “He Was Grandpa,” a touching song about the death of a beloved grandparent, an endearing presence in Molly’s life, though she never really knew what his real name was.
In her introductory remarks, Staitman warned the audience about the consequences of cell phone use during the show, threatening to take a picture of any offenders and projecting them on the on-stage screen. Sure enough, when someone’s phone inevitably went off during the show, Staitman stopped what she was doing, walked into the audience, and admonished the apoplectically embarrassed patron, triumphantly snapping her picture, and then returning to the stage to pick up where she left off. For a girl so young to do that in the middle of a show – well, that was awesome.
Welcome to My World has been extended until October 4 with performances on Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8 pm and the final performance on Sunday at 2 pm. The Grove Theater Center is located at 1111-B Olive Ave. in Burbank. Tickets can be purchased through Plays411.com/World or on Goldstar.com. There are some 1/2 price tickets and a few comps available through both ticket agencies.