By Donna Herman
Numbers Nerds is a selection of the New York Musical Festival playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater until Sunday July 23rd, but it could just as easily be part of the fall line-up on Fox or the CW. Not surprising since a note in the Playbill from Producer Larry Little (also responsible for the story) informs us its target audience is high schools, colleges & community theaters. Numbers Nerds is about a mostly female competitive high-school math team from Wisconsin that reaches the National Sum-It Championships. And it was written in response to a dialogue with theater faculty at local high schools and colleges bemoaning the lack of roles for females. Which brings us full circle to the Festival which encourages musicals with diversity.
Comparing Numbers Nerds to a sit-com doesn’t mean it’s bad. And while there have been some incredible, ground-breaking sit-coms, I wouldn’t call Numbers Nerds exactly ground-breaking. There’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s nothing really spectacular either. It’s very middle-of-the-road, and wouldn’t offend, or inspire, anyone.
The plot is fairly predictable and tame. Four girls on a high school math team. The team captain chokes during the regionals and gets them out of the competition. The other girls gang up on her and throw her out of the team. They get a boy on the team, the former girl captain gets help from the drama teacher with her stage fright and gets back on the team. The team gets another shot at nationals because their rivals were disqualified for cheating, and they win. There’s some mild mean girl action, but it gets resolved in the end. Aside from that, nobody has any real issues to grapple with aside from normal teenage self-doubt and angst. There are no home or parental problems, no race or cultural issues, there are some nerd and cool kid issues, but nothing that is causing any of the characters real heartbreak.
Aside from the lack of dramatic tension or conflict, the dialog is amusing and realistic, there are plenty of hip cultural references to keep young people interested, and the pace is good. The performances were all good too, with a special nod to Sharon Sachs who really knows how to get the most out of a line. And Jake Morrissy as the homeschooled missionary’s offspring who has learned American culture from out of date TV in Laos, played the perfect geek. Having never met him, I’ll assume it was terrific acting chops.
While the music is standard show tune fare, the songs are the stand-out in Numbers Nerds. They do what great show tunes do – express a character’s inner emotional state in a way that allows the audience to feel what they’re feeling. While I didn’t leave humming the melodies (they all kind of ran together for me, frankly), I did leave thinking of some of the lines from the songs. I was especially impressed with the lines in “Melissa’s First Theorem” that referenced Einstein, Copernicus and Fibonacci, and made them rhyme! And Mary Kate’s (Danielle Davila) seduction song “Outlier” is so perfect for a high school nerd mathlete:
“Sometimes, in statistics,/There’s a single point/That’s off the grid and thrusts all of/Your theories out of joint:/
You’re an outlier./You’re skewing all the stats./Some would just discard you,/But I don’t graph like that./
You’re an outlier/Yes, it’s impolite,/But look at them, and look at you,/I’m right.
You’re so…familiar./I’d say you’re a little bit like me,/Bent on banishing yourself/From mediocrity.
So stand with me/And together, stand apart./Come and keep me company/At the edges of the chart.”
Numbers Nerds definitely succeeds in its mission, and will be a staple in the high school and college repertory for the foreseeable future. Whether it has a future in commercial theater is yet to be seen.
Numbers Nerds Book by Laura Stratford, Story by Larry Little, Music by David Kornfeld, Lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser, Additional Music by Dylan Marcaurele, Directed and Choreographed by Amber Mak, Music Director Tom Vendafreddo
WITH: Danielle Davila (Mary Kate); Madison Kauffman (Barbie); Jake Morrissy (Leroy); Maisie Rose (Melissa); Sharon Sachs (Ms. McGery); Tiffany Tatreau (Amber); Dylan Marcaurele (Conductor/Piano); John Cockerill (Synthesizer); Joshua Mark Samuels (Drums); Joseph Wallace (Bass)
Scenic Design by Jen Price Fick; Lighting Design by Michael Cole; Projection Design by Kevan Loney; Costume Design by Theresa Ham; Publicist, Off Off PR/Paul Siebold; General Manager, Simpson & Longthorne Theatricals; Stage Manager, Jessica Forella; Producer, Larry Little/CPA Productions. Presented as part of the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street through July 23rd. For tickets visit: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/973975