The life of Anita Bryant – both destructive and self-destructive – is one of the two narratives that entwine in Diversionary Theatre’s promising world-premiere musical The Loneliest Girl in the World. The other is that of a young man named Tommy: bullied, closeted and at the outset of the story a loving fan from far of the beauty pageant runner-up from Oklahoma turned wholesome singer. Bryant’s eventual transformation into a righteous hatemonger leads Tommy through difficult yet affirming life changes of his own.
The impetus for Bryant’s devolution could benefit from some contextual heft, but most everything else works in this alternately witty and impassioned show written by Gordon Leary (book and lyrics) and Julia Meinwald (music), and directed by Diversionary’s Matt Morrow. The melodic score is moving without becoming rhapsodic, and its clever turns spoof the pop and political landscapes of the ‘50s and ‘70s especially. As Bryant, the gifted Allison Spratt Pearce humanizes without creating sympathy for a figure justifiably demonized by the gay community. Sam Heldt, meanwhile, is deeply vulnerable as Tony, and in multiple roles Steve Gouveia, Shaun Tuazon, Lauren King Thompson and Marci Anne Wuebben effect the illusion of a much bigger show on a much larger stage. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/13/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.