“I’m bored out of my mind, too sick to even care. I’ll take a little walk. Nobody’s going to know I’m in Senior Ward” reads like a light diary entry. Sung over acoustic guitar and a drum kit, the lyrics from Stuart Murdoch’s opening song “Act of the Apostle” are random, poetic and satisfying, which is kind of the point.
“God Help the Girl,” a musical directed by Clara Olshansky and playing February 1–3, is all about songs and songwriting, and celebrates lyrics in catchy-but-thought-provoking indie pop numbers.
Main character Eve Carmichael (Solia Hoegl ’20), who struggles with eating disorders and mental health problems, decides to leave a psychiatric hospital (“That gives you a little free time I’ll just use it all at once”) during a recreational soccer game to fix or restart her life and write playful yet pensive indie songs.
The plot develops when Eve meets emo guitar player James (Zulfiqar Mannan ’20), who works as a lifeguard, and shares his apartment platonically while singing songs and foolin’ around with steamy musician Anton (Nick Tabio ’21). Eve, James and wholesome family girl Cassie (Alexa Vaghenas ’20), who had been taking music lessons from James, decide to start a band to debut Eve’s songs, and ruminate on life, religion, music and coming-of-age.
Described as “the story of a young woman trying to rescue herself through music, a young man determined to create something of lasting value and a girl who really just wants to write some songs,” the show presents itself in normally acted scenes and really dense, characterizing musical numbers, executed in cool and unexpected ways.
Eve, James and Cassie’s songs are loaded with deep, thoughtful characterizations and musings, a situation that kind of contorts the traditional role of songs in musicals. The show itself is a pious tribute to the power of songwriting and the beef of the plot is in the songs, a kind of fractal of lyric worship.
I’m not an edgy music guru, but the production made me feel connected to the creative songwriting process, to the funky indie pop music I saw being performed and to how much it meant to all the characters and to Stuart Murdoch.
In this performance, the band sits on stage in front of aesthetically placed strings of records, which make a black polka dot backdrop when the stage is backlit. I think the show is primarily about listening, and it’s fun to watch the characters develop and even more fun to listen to them.
Eve, Cassie and James perform great band numbers that end the first act, and, over the course of the second, James adds in ukulele. The trio is close and visibly enjoys singing together, both in the context of the show and seemingly in real life. Dr. Browning, Eve’s doctor in the psychiatric hospital, only exists in the first act, so actor Rebecca Ju ’20 switches to playing bass in the onstage band, which accompanies the entire musical and set changes with energy and cohesion.
“God Help the Girl” is built on its songs and has a symbiotic relationship to them. Within the show itself, the musical numbers are very theatrical and superimposed into the plot, but they’re also just good indie pop songs by themselves.
The Chorus to the actual number “God Help the Girl” is relevant to Eve and her life issues, but “You have been warned, I’m born to be contrary. Backward at school, I wrote from right to left,” is also inquisitive, funky and universal. The musical celebrates and exhales and relishes in its poetry: “Teacher never cared for me, Preacher said a prayer for me. God help the girl, she needs all the help she can get.”
Emily Schussheim | firstname.lastname@example.org