No one sings during the rumble scene in “The Outsiders,” a new musical at La Jolla Playhouse adapted from S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel of teenage alienation and Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film version. The nine-person orchestra — guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, some mournful strings — stays silent, too. Instead, young bodies, about 20 of them, supply their own percussive music, falling to the cork-covered floor, groaning into their mikes, as stage rain soaks them through. This violence is for the show, of course. Those kicks and punches don't actually connect. But the brawl, at least at first, is not aestheticized. It's a fistfight, not a dance — brutal, futile, wet, raw, and sad. “The Outsiders,” despite its considerable appeal, can't yet bear too much reality. Awkward, yearning, fast on its feet, the show, like the adolescents it describes, is still trying on various identities. Directed by Danya Taymor from a book by Adam Rapp, with gorgeous, mournful music and lyrics from Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, of Jamestown Revival, and Justin Levine, this La Jolla version (and I'm sentimental enough to hope that there will soon be other versions) is a musical with growing pains, currently serving too many characters, too many themes, too many styles. But when it reaches its full height, it might really be something to see. Largely faithful to the book and for better or worse, to the film, which a New York Times critic once witheringly described as “a laughably earnest […]
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