Though "Out of the Reach of Children" is getting a winning production at New Playwrights' Theater, the musical's real star is the author. Cornelia Ravenal, 25, has graced her show with a score of songs, and the best of these ditties rival Sondheim and Hamlisch.
Many of Ravenal's songs of innocence and experience -- binding a coming-of-age yarn of five high-school friends -- have wit and polish to match Broadway fare. A character named Ellen, for instance, wears navy sweatpants and a hot-pink pullover to croon the "U.M.C.O.W.G. (Upper Middle Class Overprivileged White Girl) Blues": "My shrink thinks I'm wacky/ 'Cause my dreams are all in khaki/ And the serpent is an alligator."
Patty, the school grind, laments college applications to be-bop accompaniment in a tune called "Mr. Ivy": "Please, Mr. Ivy, you don't know how I pray./ Please, Mr. Ivy, I never felt this way./ I wreck my homework, crying./ I chew my pencils, waiting./ You don't know how I'm dying,/ Waiting for my rating."
Then there's sexpot Marian, a lithe would-be dancer, mooning over a lover in the song "I-N-F-A-T-U-A-T-I-O-N," while the chorus pooh-poohs her romantic protestations. "He spent the night and he stayed all morning," Marian sings. "He had to lie to his mother," the chorus chimes in. "I had him over to dinner Saturday," Marian adds. "She had him over a cocktail," the chorus amplifies.
These tunes and others, deftly arranged by Ravenal and Marc Johnson (with the odd assist from Peter Mansfield and Pat Powers), boast kicky melodies and tangy harmonies, with a gloss of counterpoint to keep things lively. The best are singable, solid and almost slick -- surely a promising start for a young pop composer. The worst, by commercial standards, aren't half bad.
The story, which starts at a school much like Ravenal's alma mater, the National Cathedral School for Girls, follows the soul- searching odyssey from adolescent to adult. Presented in two acts, with a stream of projected slides to complement the action, it has five girlfriends grappling with all the usual concerns -- parents, bustlines, boys -- and finally coming to terms in the grownup world. The plot may be modest, even mundane, but it's certainly not out of reach.
The musical profits by a competent all- woman cast -- with Caron Tate the vocal standout -- and smart, careful direction by Frederic Lee. It suffers from occasional bouts of cloying dialogue and -- especially in the finale, with the now-mature friends getting together for New Year's Eve -- sentiments better suited to a Michelob commercial. It also seems too long, though cutting from the tunes would be an unenviable task. OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN -- At New Playwrights' Theater through December 23.