By Anita Gates
We are all mangosteens.
Like most important works of musical theater set in high schools, “Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist” has a social message, and there it is. The mangosteen is an odd and rare fruit, high in antioxidants, difficult to find and reportedly so delicious you could die and go to vegetarian heaven after the first bite.
Plus, as Gary and his mother observe, the name is nice because it sounds kind of Jewish.
Much of “Gary Goldfarb,” which is part of this year’s New York Musical Theater Festival, is bliss and a half. Jared Loftin is cuddly-adorable and poignant as Gary, an insecure, overweight Long Island teenager who dreams of becoming a renowned magician but is having trouble even being allowed to enter the school’s talent show.
He is regularly bullied by Kenny (James David Larson) and Tyler (Dimitri Moise); quietly worshiped by Penelope (Krista Buccellato), who wears glasses, stutters and is in a wheelchair; and loudly disdained by Cheryl Samatsinghar-Stein (Shoba Narayanan), an Indian-Jewish beauty, the hottest girl in school.
Adults give Gary trouble, too. His mother, Gilda (MaryAnne Piccolo), taunts him about the need to diet. The cafeteria lady (Ms. Piccolo in a blond wig and blue-green lipstick) tempts him with empty carbs. Coach Rimsore (Todd Thurston) is no help, distracted as he is by his lust for Cheryl, who is approaching her 18th birthday.
Imagine “High School Musical” with cruelty, cynicism (maybe Penelope won’t be able to walk even in heaven) and knives (Kenny has a cutting habit). The songs — which include “There’s No Future in Fat,” “Gary Loves My Tater Tots” and “Jewish Mothers” — feature lyrics about gay people and Chick-fil-A, Israel and Iran, and Bernard Madoff. One number rhymes “preggers” with “keggers.”
The clever perpetrators are Omri Schein, who did the irreverent book and lyrics, and James Olmstead, who wrote the catchy, nicely varied music. “Gary Goldfarb,” directed with style by John Znidarsic, is tremendous fun and does have a happy ending — betraying its cool with gusto — but the show seems extremely New Yorkish. Could tourists ever embrace it?
Well, “Avenue Q,” which won the best-musical Tony with jokes about ethnic bias and sexually active puppets, is still running.
“Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist” continues at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Manhattan, Wednesday at 1 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.; nymf.org, (212) 352-3101.