On the basis of its familiar plot outline, there is no way to know that "With Glee" (which has nothing to do with the TV show) is such a refreshing, unpretentiously smart and endearing little musical.
Five grown actors - all relatively unknown big talents - manage not to be icky or patronizing as troubled 13-year-old boys banished to a "bad-kid" boarding school in Maine.
Characters in this Prospect Theater Company production only seem to be one-from-column-A types: the eager-to-please pyromaniac from the broken home, the lonely rich boy, the gay one, the neurotic whose parents fight and the lower-class one who steals. But composer-author John Gregor ("Pinkalicious") and director Igor Goldin ("Yank") have created a 90-minute work of imagination that finds real emotion in the playfulness and genuine individuals inside the stereotypes.
Even the tiny stage is turned into an advantage, throwing off our sense of scale as these big little boys dash up and down the side staircases into scenes at school and at home. Two other actors play all-purpose adults with quick-change personalities. It isn't hard to pick out Stephen Sondheim quotations in the music, deftly accompanied on just a piano, but there is also a neat Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, a bit of bluegrass, and a wicked play-within-the-play spoof of mega-musical grandiosity.
WHAT "With Glee"
WHERE Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
INFO $25; 212-279-4200; ticketcentral.com
BOTTOM LINE Fresh and endearing school musical, but not the one on TV
Lawn chair 'travel'
"See Rock City & Other Destinations," another new 90-minute Off-Broadway musical, is more striking for its characters and direction than its stories and score. Jack Cummings III (who staged last season's acclaimed "Boys in the Band" as a party in a real penthouse) has the audience set up our own lawn chairs on all sides of the action.
Seven versatile actors from his Obie-winning Transport Group theater present a series of foggy dreamlike vignettes about personal journeys to iconic American sites - Niagara Falls, the Alamo battlefield, Glacier Bay, Coney Island and the mecca for flying-saucer believers in Roswell, N.M.
The locations are suggested with little more than tubes of fluorescent lights and a rolling scaffold, efficiently moved around by the cast. But Brad Alexander's music is little more than grindingly repetitious piano chords and Adam Mathias' lyrics use such simple-minded moon/June rhymes that we finish the lines before the actors get there.
WHAT "See Rock City & Other Destinations"
WHERE The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St.
INFO $48; 646-223-3010; transportgroup.org
BOTTOM LINE Better concept than musical