HOOKED ON HAPPINESS: An Entertaining High School Global Warming Musical of Greta Thunbergs (That’s Missing Environmental Racism)
Hooked on Happiness: An Entertaining High School Global Warming Musical (That’s Missing Environmental Racism)
If you want more Greta Thunbergs in the world berating adult and political inaction against the impending climate crisis, Hooked on Happiness the musical at Theater for a New City may just be your thing. It zeros in on a high school theatre troupe persuading their drama teacher to scrap plans for Hello Dolly! or Our Town to craft a musical that will convince their evangelical doomsday-addicted parents to fight against the existential threat that’s melting the icecaps, driving species to extinction, polluting the oceans, driving CO2 in the air, and other disasters. The students fine-tune their script into something chipper and digestible since misery could easily be a turn-off in the age of burn-out.
Hooked on Happiness, while enjoyable as a love letter to high school amateurity and sincerity, is basically what you get: A revue tossing arguments that hit the broad strokes, from don’t eat meat (or just eat less), get out and plant a tree, quit throwing plastic in the ocean, and support that Green New Deal this Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put out. With a talented cast consisting of Liz Bealko, Hannah Carne, Spencer Martinez, Leonard W. Rose, Jordan Rubio, Jazz Sunpanich, and Hannah Weaver, you’re sure to have fun. Everyone will have their own specific concerns about global warming and it’s unfair to assume Hooked on Happiness would cover all the micros in the scope. It’s clearly writing from the lens of high schoolers who wrote a draft from the heart. As a result, the bouncy contents of Tom Attea’s book and lyrics conveniently don’t delve into too much while hitting the familiar facts. But my personal concerns regard environmental racism or specific technology or specific methods. (The one visible performer of color is backgrounded).
There is the spine of an arc, where the teacher states her stakes and the possibility of losing her job and the children skillfully know how to come to her rescue. The heaviest intrigue comes from the teacher and students knowing they have to negotiate the tone of their script for something palatable to their audience. While this is a marvelous idea to play with regarding how climate change should be tackled, don’t expect it to elevate it into anything thought-provoking. The musical doesn’t ruminate on the subject any further once they dive into the music.
Under Mark Marcante’s direction, it captures the squabbly nature of classrooms and the chipperness of youthful commitment. Mackenzie Surbey leaves an impression with punchy choreography that knows the not-always-in-sync nature of high school productions. Arthur Abrams’s tunes are absolutely ear-wormy. Highlights include a slapsticky tango of anxiety in “Love in an Uncertain Time,” “The Mother Earth Blues” — guest-starring a “Father Sun” in an outrageous costume, and a two-time gag of a tap-dancing polar bear.
The audience coming to see Hooked on Happiness won’t expect anything new or bring home any novel knowledge to sit on. Their mood will be lightened. Hey, everyone deserves a respite from climate anxiety and Hooked on Happiness does that.