Sperm, narcissism, and puppy love — it’s just another day in high school in Marshall Pailet’s ’09 original musical “Where It’s At.”
Chock full of flippant asides, internet pop-culture, blatant sexual innuendo, and even an over-achieving egoist whose single goal in life is to get into the College of Cambridge (or C.O.C.—draw your own conclusions), “Where It’s At” seems to be a show meant for a specific audience: The easily-amused college student.
But Pailet, who directed and composed the musical, insists it’s a story that all audiences will enjoy. A quiet high school boy named Todd (Sam Bolen ’10) falls for self-centered Sally Jo (Mallory Baysek ’11). At the same time, the narcissistic Rod (Jay Frisby ’08) decides that Sally Jo is the perfect accessory to his “Rodness.” Todd and Rod vie for her affections as they also compete against each other for the Judy Blick Baumgarten New Millennium Award for Excellence in Bio-Initiatives. Against the awkward backdrop of high school, “Where It’s At” wryly tells of the trials and tribulations of first love in a very twenty-first century kind of way.
The show’s theme is universal enough that Pailet thinks anyone can relate to it. After all, he says, “Theater’s about communal therapy. It’s, ‘I am scared of my own mortality, too,’ and ‘Oh! I was horny when I was fifteen, too’ — or ‘I’m still horny!’”
In fact, some Yalies may relate a little too closely to the characters of “Where It’s At.” The show skillfully makes light of high school moments that many no doubt remember acutely — whether with a grimace or a smile. Todd, the wallflower protagonist, lives a rich fantasy life, frequently imagining himself as a swashbuckling pirate on the high seas. And the vaguely thuggish herd of groupthinking “Commentators” (Emma Barash ’11, Micah Hendler ’11 and Lee Seymour ’09) starts out dressing alike and speaking in staccato unison; they soon realize, with musical accompaniment, that each of them — surprisingly enough — is actually an individual.
For all the color of the jokes and jabs at high school life, the parade of comic stereotypes appears on a fairly empty stage. In the performances at Nick Chapel last weekend, the only decor on the sparse set was a row of lockers and a single poster announcing the Judy Blick Award.
But that’s exactly what Pailet intended. “Great sets and costumes are beautiful additions,” he says. “But at the end of the show, you don’t want people to say the story is stupid or the acting is terrible. You have to have the heart.”
Pailet’s emphasis on storytelling is understandable. He has labored over “Where It’s At” for six years, and over that time, the story has had many titles and been performed several times. It is just one of two musicals that Pailet and cowriter A.D. Penedo have been working on. The other, a show called “The Chocolate Tree,” was likewise well-received and will be produced in Eugene, Oregon, in the future.
And yet, Pailet’s recent focus on directing and writing is unusual for him. Over his lifetime, he estimates he has spent almost 95% of his time acting, including performing in Broadway shows during middle school and high school. Now, he says, “They’re about even — acting, directing and writing. It’s a nice balance. When I get sick of one I can go to another.”
Pailet is already focused on his next director’s role. He will be taking on the Dramat’s commencement musical, “Bat Boy.” But he hasn’t yet closed the book on “Where It’s At” and hopes that in the future “something will happen with it.”
Essentially, he wants to keep his options open. “Hopefully I won’t have to decide what I have to do with my life,” Pailet says. “Hopefully my life will decide for me.”