PROVO — I know when I sign up to see a performance at The Hive Collaborative in Provo I am in store for something creative and different. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard they were putting on a show literally called Different: the Musical. My excitement increased when I learned this show is a new original musical celebrating the experiences of teens with special needs—particularly on the autism and down syndrome spectrums. My hopes were high and the folks at The Hive delivered something special that will hopefully continue to evolve and grow as it is performed.
While no analogy is perfect, I often find it is helpful when talking about a new work to compare and contrast it with other popular shows to help get an idea for what the audience might experience. The easiest comparison is Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen. Both stories are about teen boys who struggle to fit in socially at school, but Different doesn’t have the more problematic story beats of DEH. Another hidden gem I thought of while watching is the microbudget indie movie musical Colma: The Musical, which is also about teenagers struggling to fit in with their community and what they should do after high school. I also thought about the recent Trevor: the Musical, which you can see on Disney Plus.
The story in Different focuses on Henry (played by Harrison Buchanan). I asked in the Q&A where Henry is on the autism spectrum, and he is on the higher side of functioning. He struggles with anxiety and even has a full-scale cognitive break at one point. While The Hive did their best at casting 60% special needs cast, Buchanan is not autistic but at least from my neuro-normative perspective he effectively portrayed the struggles and charm of Henry’s character.
When Henry arrives at school, he meets a group called the Best Buddies, which is a real nonprofit that helps special needs students make friends and gain employment skills. Different seeks to advocate for the group, but it also provides a lot of fun supporting characters for the show. I particularly enjoyed Colton Purcell as Freddie, and I loved the way the choreographer Kate Hendrickson worked his wheelchair into the dance sequences seamlessly. Purcell as Freddie also gets one of the best songs in the hip-hop inspired number, “No Filter” (he is No Filter Freddie after all).
Emma Strong’s Ellie is another standout of the Best Buddies group. Her character is universally beloved by all of the characters and provides the catalyst for the most emotional scene of the show with a song called, “It Isn’t Real.”
There was also Marion Park as Henry’s stressed out Mom and Thomas Jenson as Henry’s neuro-normative and sometimes judgmental brother. At first I wasn’t feeling Mike’s journey, because he seemed one-note and too harsh, but he came around and in the end worked for me.
I may not relate to being a special needs teen, but I can relate to being bullied and picked on at school. I bet most people will be able to find something to relate with in Different. The Daynes family have clearly made a labor of love and that family connection comes through in every scene (Executive Producer Rick Daynes, Creator and Principle Author Tyler Daynes, Director and Playwright Samantha Daynes, and Lyricist and Composer Jefferson Daynes). It’s neat to see a family create art together and share it with the community.
As far as feedback, there were some microphone problems on opening night that I am sure they will iron out. A few of the songs do blend together and could use a more distinct melody. For example, I enjoyed the idea of, “My IEP,” but it sounded basically the same as the opening number, “BMOC.” I feel like those numbers are close to working but not quite there.
I know autism is difficult to portray in media, because it manifests itself so differently in each person. Perhaps it might be helpful to have a song where Henry elaborates on his particular brand of autism and the challenges he faces. We get his fantasy at, “BMOC,” but need his reality as well. Also, like I said, Mike is a little harsh in the first act and not given a reason behind his behavior until Act 2. I was really disliking him until he asks Mia (played by Sara Platter) to the dance and her response gets him rethinking his choices. It was an interesting arc; it just perhaps starts too late in the narrative.
The production is relatively simple with monitors in the background showing images of where the characters are usually at the school (Production Stage Manager Alyssa Call with props by Rose Allen). The costumes are normal school clothes for the teens except a nice moment where timid Jessica (played by Myra Palmer) arrives at the school dance in a simple orange party dress.
It’s such an exciting experience to be in the audience for a new ambitious musical, and that’s what you get with Different: the Musical at The Hive Collaborative. Unfortunately, the show is sold out, but you can be part of a live stream event this Saturday August 27, 2022, at 2 PM and 7:30 PM. (I’m sad more people won’t be able to see it at The Hive, but thrilled original works are selling out.) If you can find time on Saturday to watch the live stream, it will definitely be worth your while. Different: The Musical is a sweet, inclusive, energetic show with themes anyone can relate with. You can also listen to the cast album on SoundCloud by checking out the musical’s website.