REVIEW: MTR performs coming-of-age musical Edges

On Friday, the Musical Theatre Repertory at USC presented Edges, a song-cycle musical comprised of individual songs performed in a sequence and written by songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The musical is made up of 15 songs: Each song contains unrelated stories and characters, but still possesses similar coming-of-age themes that are indelibly intertwined. Each vignette illuminates characters that are on the edge of their young lives, struggling to grapple with the daunting issues of adulthood.

MTR is a student theater company at USC that produces an array of musicals spanning multiple genres. This past year, they presented several notable works, including Company, Stephen Sondheim’s famous musical, and Heathers, a rock musical written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy that was adapted into the 1989 feature film.

Edges is the most contemporary musical MTR has presented this semester. Pasek and Paul were undergraduates at the University of Michigan when they composed the piece in 2005. Beyond Edges, Pasek and Paul went on to have wildly successful careers as a creative team, writing the acclaimed Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, as well as the lyrics in La La Land.

Ultimately, MTR’s production of Edges was not only highly entertaining, but also extremely relevant to students at USC. The songs address some of the most challenging aspects of adulthood, including relationships, career prospects, commitment, heartbreak, rejection and failure. MTR impressively managed to assemble a simple, yet highly nuanced portrayal of these multifaceted themes.

Edges involved a small cast of eight, starring Liz Buzbee, Chas Conacher, Marissa DuBowy, Tyler Ellis, Taylor Kass, Carson Klasner, Maxine Phoenix and Patrick Wallace. The show was directed by Taubert Nadalini, a senior majoring in theatre, and Annika Ellwanger-Chavez, a junior majoring in theatre with an emphasis in acting.

“Because there are so many different songs that target different aspects of youth, optimism and goal-setting, people of all walks of life can relate to the show,” Nadalini said. “[Edges] champions hope and showcases how people pursue relationships, careers, new horizons — what the obstacles are that get in their way and how they overcome them.”

The overall production compellingly examined the transition from adolescence into adulthood. It was put together in a little over three weeks, which is a short time for an MTR production.

Despite this short preparation period, Taubert and Ellwanger-Chavez succeeded in putting together a piece rife with inventive choreography, set design and formation changes. The only subtle trace of the crew’s brief rehearsal period was through a few unpolished transitions near the beginning of the show.

In all, Edges as a whole effectively investigated the struggle of a young person in the modern era through memorable lyrics and powerful performances. MTR produced a highly engaging, moving and dynamic production that underscores a deeply universal message.