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July 27, 2013

The No. 1 Reason to See: Volleygirls

by Jesse North

Volleygirls scene 01

Self esteem and high school glory are once again on the line when it’s time for the big game in Volleygirls. The new musical by Rob Ackerman, Eli Bolin, and Sam Forman, playing as part of NYMF through July 27 at the Signature Center, focuses on a team of six insecure high school volleyball players and their equally hapless coach. Coach Kim Brindell (played by [title of show]’s Susan Blackwell) is a disgraced Olympian who gets a chance at redemption when she is charged with shaking the team from their dismal losing streak. Yet the girls’ road to victory is smattered with mommy issues, daddy issues, sexual identity crisis and more. Both coach and teammates will have to pull each other out of their emotional mire to go for the gold.

The no. 1 reason to see Volleygirls: “You’re Beautiful When You Play”
As with all inspirational sports stories, the coach swoops in to save the ailing team, shakes up the scene, and delivers the uplifting salvo. And while Kim does this for the girls (Blackwell delivering a more vulnerable, damaged performance than we’re used to seeing from this comedian), it’s actually another character that carries the most heartrending inspiration. PJ Adzima plays Xavier, the drop-jawed, overeager student announcer for the “Volleygirls,” as he calls them. With brutal earnestness and an all-American naivete that echoes a young Rory O’Malley, Adzima bounces around the stage not as an annoyance (as could easily happen with this part), but as a genuine champion of the fledgling team. He particularly routes for the team captain, Jess, (played with control by Allison Strong) whom he has a raging crush on. Xavier finally gets a moment alone with Jess and she confides in him about the overwhelming pressure she feels from her mom to succeed. In attempts to cheer her up, he sings “You’re Beautiful When You Play,” a heart-filled song that rings of innocence and perception. This is not a trite ode to a girl he thinks is pretty; Volleygirls is about finding confidence through your passion. Xavier sings this song to Jess, telling her that the insecure teenager melts away, yielding to a radiant young woman when she’s on the court. For a performer of such boyishness (which he also uses to his comedic advantage), Adzima in this moment oddly becomes a strong man who is able to support this girl in her struggle for security within herself. Adzima oozes charm with a complete lack of opportunism. Later in the show’s second act when Jess relays this same message to her teammates, “You’re Beautiful When You Play” becomes that much more chill inducing. It captures the moment when a teenager, ever searching for their place in the world, actually finds it.

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