The cast and crew of “52 Blue,” a musical written, directed and acted by teens. Photo by Lisa Fehl

Ever wonder why most of the the musicals and plays about teens are written, directed and acted by people who haven’t been to school in so long they’ve forgotten where it is?

Annika Schmitt and Nick Sutton did. The two South Portland teens decided a couple years ago it was time for members of Gen Z to write, sing and speak for themselves on stage. Their first show was “Gen-Z The Musical” in the summer of 2019, with an all-teen cast and crew. Their second, “52 Blue” was written during this past year’s pandemic and runs Thursday through Saturday at Portland Players in South Portland.

“The idea at first was to make fun of all those musicals written by people 10 years out of high school, trying to replicate the high school experience,” said Schmitt, 19.

But “52 Blue” is a little darker than “Gen-Z The Musical.” Its focus is on a missing teen and the emotional stress one of his best friends goes through, with some comedy mixed in. The story focuses on a teenager named May who is struggling with her mental health after the disappearance of one of her friends, missing for about a year. All she has left of him is an essay he wrote about a whale, and she tries desperately to find clues in the essay.

Annika Schmitt talks with Nick Sutton, left, during rehearsal. They co-wrote the musical “52 Blue.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It’s a show about teens, written by teens, giving voice to their thoughts. Teens or recent high school graduates have the main roles and the one actor who does not fit the description, Jessica Libby, is billed as portraying “everyone else.” Schmitt and Sutton wrote the show and the songs, and will direct.

The show features more than a dozen songs ranging from “Local Drug Dealer,” which Schmitt calls silly and over the top, to “Not a Whale.” Sutton calls the latter a vampy, Burlesque-style song. It is sung to the main character, May, who has become obsessed with the whale mentioned in the essay written by her missing friend.

Some of the other songs include “The Loneliest Creature,” “Something Again” “The Boy and the Blue” and “Who Will You Be.”

Laney Filieo, who plays May, said the show’s story is part murder-mystery, as she tries to figure out what happened to her friend. But it also deals with mental health and isolation, two themes a lot of teens have dealt with, especially during the pandemic.

“I pull from my own experiences for the character, that feeling of being alone is something a lot of us can relate to,” said Filieo, 18, of South Portland.

Laney Filieo, who plays May, rehearses for “52 Blue.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The whale in “52 Blue” is based on the true story of an unidentified whale, first heard in the 1980s, whose call registers at the frequency of 52 Hz, much higher than that of many other whales. Because it uses a different mode of communication than other whales it has been called “the world’s loneliest whale.”

The cast includes seven teenagers, most of whom have acted in musicals and plays at South Portland High School in the past few years. But this past year, live school productions were shut down for most of the year. Sutton, who graduated from South Portland High School in June, said the pandemic shutting down extra-curricular activities was not the main reason he and Schmitt wrote “52 Blue,” but it helped.

“I think I wanted to do this show more because I love doing this stuff, it’s so much fun,” said Sutton, 17, of South Portland, who will be studying music at the University of New Hampshire in the fall. “But when Annika said ‘should we do another a show’, I said ‘absolutely, we have nothing else going on.’ ”

Schmitt, who graduated from South Portland High School in 2020, attended Smith College in Massachusetts remotely, from Maine, this past year. So she and Sutton began working on songs and ideas in the fall. They posted a video online of a snippet of their music and then began auditions in late winter and early spring. Rehearsals have been at Sutton’s house, or other locations, including outdoors on a basketball court.

From left, Gavin Tarling as Chris and Connor Dobson as Noah in “52 Blue.” Photo by Lisa Fehl

They arranged to use the Portland Players theater on Cottage Road, and will be asking for donations at the performances and will make a contribution to the theater, which was shut down for most of the pandemic, Schmitt said. The set is made up of furniture and props the cast and crew gathered, and the costumes come from cast members’ closets or thrift stores, Schmitt said.

Filieo, who was in the musical “Newsies” and drama club productions in high school, finds being part of an all-teen production easier in some ways.

“I think it’s easier to relate to the show, because it’s stuff going on in our lives,” said Fileo, who graduated from South Portland High School in June. “It’s fun to be able to help get our generation’s voices out there.”

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