Off-Broadway Review: “Peace, Love, and Cupcakes” at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row

Off-Broadway Review: “Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Sunday July 30, 2017)
Book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk, and Jill Jaysen
Music and Lyrics by Rick Hip-Flores
Directed by Rommy Sandhu
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical,” currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, is a sweet bubble gum musical that, on the surface, addresses the issue of bullying at school and its deleterious effects. Based on the book by the same name (the first in the Cupcake Club series by Sheryl Berk), the musical has a book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk, and Jill Jaysen and music and lyrics by Rick Hip-Flores. The musical’s protagonist is Kylie Carson (played with convincing charm by Madison Mullahey). In the book, Kylie is a fourth-grader. In the musical, Kylie is in eighth grade.

Kylie is the new girl at Blakely Middle School trying to navigate her way through the adolescent maze of making new friends, stumbling on the uphill climb that leads to a modicum of social status, acceptance of one’s socio-economic position, and current skill set. Additionally, Kylie must endure the constant barrage of bullying by her antagonist Meredith (played with a conniving core by Alexa Reeves), the impeccably dressed, uber-talented, fashion-aware leader of the BLAH Girls (think Valley Girls) who keeps her followers (not friends) in tow through intimidation and threats of abandonment. The stated goal of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes is to “inspire kids to embrace their individuality and use their voices to positively impact the world around them. Here, these lofty goals attempt to combat the horrors of bullying.

“Peace, Love and Cupcakes: The Musical” does not deal with the full spectrum of school bullying and its victims. The musical. For example, merely skirts at the issue of social network bullying. Still, it serves, even in its relative innocence, as a vehicle to further the important conversation around school bullying and its detrimental fallout.

Under Rommy Sandhu’s direction, the members of the young cast handle their roles and musical numbers with apparent skill. These fine actors could easily be challenged with more sophisticated choreography than the basic steps provided by Mr. Sandhu. Rick Hip-Flores’s lyrics are less satisfying than his upbeat music. Ms. Mullahey displays a charming and well-controlled voice in her solo “How Do You Deal with a Monster” which exemplifies the ambivalence those being bullied face when attempting to survive.

The musical’s emphasis on feeling good about yourself and loving who you are represent rich and enduring themes; however, on their own, they cannot fully combat the horrors of school bullying that terrify students so much they stop attending school or resort to other self-destructive solutions. True adult advocacy (not the kind provided by the teacher in this musical) is what is required to provide redemption and release to children like Kylie Carson. Baking cupcakes, as delicious as they might be, will not end the scourge of school bullying and bullies like Meredith cannot be converted by sugar-coated acts of reconciliation.