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‘Don’t Stop Me’ dances through history

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From left, Joe Weinberg, Emily Gumperz, Catilin Cobb-Vialet, Erin Gray and Sarah Paxon appear in Youth Musical Theater Company’s “Don’t Stop Me.” (Courtesy Dave Weiland)

Coming-of-age pressures and facing fears are major themes in a new show set in a dance marathon where time travels.

The Berkeley-based Youth Musical Theater Company presents the world premiere of “Don’t Stop Me” this week at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.

Playwright Krista Knight, composer Dave Malloy and director Jennifer Boesing say they gave the YMTC actors – seventh-graders through college students – writing and brainstorming prompts during workshops for the show.

“We wanted to know the questions that were important to them – the stories they love, the stories they feel like they live but never see represented. Their fears. Their dreams,” says Knight.

They found that for most young people today, stakes for success are high, pressures are seemingly endless, and social media hovers, grading their every move.

“We’ve just tried to create a piece that really depicts things from a teenager’s point of view, hoping we’ve been able to express their voices somewhat honestly,” says Malloy, former YMTC music director who has returned to the company after working on Broadway.

In the show, students at a high school dance-a-thon find themselves pitted against a demonic DJ who transports them to memorable dance crazes throughout history. Eras range from a medieval times to the Wild West to a 1920s speakeasy. Meanwhile, the dance contestants must face their desires and weaknesses. Only one couple wins – and comes out alive.

“At first we thought we would make a piece thematically about bullying and LGBT issues,” Malloy says, “but once we started talking to these pretty enlightened Bay Area kids, our ideas radically changed.”

The actors were interested in creating a show with a central gay couple whose conflict wasn’t necessarily related to their sexuality.

“Their focus was overwhelmingly more on the social and academic pressures they face daily from their peers, teachers, parents and society in general,” he says, “So both of those ideas became central to the show, and we were delighted that our setting, a dance marathon, was actually a perfect metaphor for the theme of this intense pressure to achieve they all feel.”

IF YOU GO
Don’t Stop Me
Presented by Youth Musical Theater Company
Where: Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland
When: 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes July 26
Tickets: $13 to $28
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com

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