Review: Boys Don’t Cry (Basement Productions)

This original musical explores toxic masculinity, played at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto

Photo of Mateo Lewis and Ryan HopperI gotta say, I was a little apprehensive waiting for Boys Don’t Cry, playing at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, to begin. Sitting under fluorescent lights in a tiny black box theatre to the tune of the Falsettos cast recording made my mind go to some strange places. “What kind of show is this?”.

The lights finally go down and the show gets off to a very intense start. Five teenaged actors dressed in plaid and sportswear take their places and sing out an anthem to welcome us into their world.

Jayden (Mateo Lewis), a frumpy, plain, teenaged nerd laments of being “trapped in a cycle” of toxic masculinity. The phrases he’s heard all his life like “man up” and “don’t be a girl” echo from the chorus, torturing him. The opening is intense and is a perfect set up for whats to come.

A couple minutes go by and I have a realization…I’ve seen this Jayden guy before…in case you wanna know how deep my musical theatre nerd-dom runs, I instantly recognized Mateo from his basement production of Dear Evan Hansen which was posted on Youtube a couple of years ago.

I remember being very impressed with his performance in the underground production and was equally impressed with him this time around, above ground, in an original show that he wrote and produced himself.

Lewis is a standout in the lead role, Jayden; an outcast, geeky teen who would do anything to be “cool” like his older brother, Brock (Ryan Hopper). Lewis commits his whole body to the role as he saunters around, slouching and stumbling over words exactly the way geeks should.

Aiden Bushey who plays Jayden’s diary brings a youthful energy to the stage. Every line he delivers is so sincere and grounded. He’s fresh air, personified.

The performance in general is definitely reminiscent of something you would see in a high school play, but I can’t really judge these young thespians for it because well…most of them are still taking Drama 101. It’s also important to note that this is a “developmental production” so lines and songs were being changed from performance to performance which might have explained the occasional “line flubs” that occurred.

And though they’re young, they managed to handle the sometimes serious subject matter of Boys Don’t Cry with impressive maturity and tact.

The acting is acceptable, but the music is what really makes this show special. It’s easily the strongest element of Boys Don’t Cry. The score has a contemporary-pop sort of feel, with some modern musical theatre influences thrown in. The songs are edgy, yet hummable. It’s clear by his music that Lewis has a deep understanding of musical theatre form. One thing that I really loved about Lewis’ score, was that every line and lyric had some kind of profound purpose while still being endearing and clever.

One of my favourite songs of the evening was an edgy rock-pop number called “Baby Bird” sung by Jayden’s mother (Grace Rockett) as she expresses her resentment towards her son while simultaneously wishing they were closer.

Not only did Rockett completely own that song with all the furiousness of a broadway belter, the music itself is just stunning and highly original. I’d be hard pressed to find a singer out there who wouldn’t love to belt that out at an audition.

The music is near perfect and as a stand alone cast recording, it’s stellar. The show as a whole though is glaringly similar to Dear Evan Hansen, from the way the plot unfolds, to the “Dear Diary” moments, to the blue polo Jayden wears at the top of Act 1. This made me wrinkle my nose a bit. The music was so original, I just wish the story, concept and characters were as well.

I mean, everyone borrows from their favorite stories. Heck, Lin Manuel Miranda was apparently trying to copy RENT when he wrote In The Heights. I think it’s absolutely fine to use other musicals as a template, I’ve done it and continue to do it, but Boys Don’t Cry went just a tad too far.

I wanted to look past the similarities, especially since the quality of the content was so high, but there were just so many, it was hard to ignore.

Despite that one issue, I still can say that I enjoyed the show. I walked out of the Red Sandcastle Theatre thoroughly impressed with this rag-tag group of teens who managed to put together a great evening of theatre with Boys Don’t Cry. I’ll definitely be on the lookout to see what Mateo Lewis writes next!

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Photo of Mateo Lewis and Ryan Hopper by Harrison Rothblot

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