After putting ML— to bed, Riley finds Jason in the Colony—he followed her back. Riley blames Jason for what happened; she feels utterly torn between her family and her desire for truth. As Jason tries to apologize, he admires the city skyline; he has never seen it from out in the woods before. Riley joins him and—suddenly—kisses him. Jason, wowed, reveals he got cell data in the city and was able to look up Y2K. He shows his results to Riley: "Thanks to international cooperation, few major failures occurred in the transition from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000.”
Riley, 20, is a member of a survivalist “Doomsday Prepper” Colony in rural Nebraska that fled society at the time of the Year 2000 Scare (Y2K). Only, it’s 2020, and having spent years in isolation, none of them got word that the infamous “Y2K Apocalypse” didn’t happen. Having amassed supplies over the years, Riley and her prepper community believe the Y2K fallout is still coming, and that they will be ready to face the end of the world. However, her faith begins to waver after a secret encounter with people from the city—the “Sheeple” Riley has been taught to distrust. Resolving to learn the truth, she escapes to the world just beyond the Colony. But with the Colony broken by her departure, and with the city far more disconnected than she could have imagined, Riley must decide if life in the dark is worth it if it means living for the ones you love. A satire exploring fake news, echo chambers, and community, Y2K: A Survivalist Musical questions how we cope with uncertainty in a world where apocalypse is commonplace and the truth seems increasingly harder to come by.
ACT I: Unauthorized Territory
Y2K: A Survivalist Musical opens with—presumably—The End Of The World As We Know It: the Doomsday Preppers gear up, hunker down and arm themselves for the worst (The Day We're Gonna Die). But at the stop of a stopwatch, Michael (50s, charismatic founder and leader of the Colony, a cult of personality) reveals it was all a disaster preparedness drill in the event of the real apocalypse: a shared, bastardized conception of the Y2K computer scare that has gradually devolved over their twenty years in isolation. As the Preppers theorize how and when the End Times will manifest themselves, Michael urges them not to trust the "Sheeple" from the city, brainwashed beyond all hope by the government. He instructs his daughter Riley (20, quick-witted, impulsive, savvy) to keep watch at the perimeter—one of her new tasks, now that Michael has decided she will succeed him.
Though none of the Preppers seem to agree on what form the Y2K Apocalypse will take, all believe they will survive it and, someday, when it's all come and gone, find their heaven right here on Earth (One Thing's For Certain [Y2K]).
Riley, bored. keeps watch at the perimeter. She calls up her best friend Ben (20, neurotic, less prone to action) on her walkie-talkie. But just as Ben learns of Michael's plans for her, Jason and Cody (18, two Life Scouts down on their luck) stumble upon the Colony, lost in the woods and looking for their troop. Instinctively, Riley pulls her rifle on the two Scouts—and after a brief (and terrified!) negotiation, searches them to find they are harmless. As Jason and Cody run off in panic, Riley is forced to consider if her father was wrong about people from the city. She resolves to find out, even if it means leaving the Colony's territory (Missing).
Meanwhile, Michael summons Ben to complete the risky task of unjamming the generator. Ben, fearful as he is, complies; he is in awe of Michael and idolizes his wisdom, guidance, and machismo (Little Ways). But just as Ben reaches his small hands into the generator, Michael stops him as God did Abraham—turns out, Ben's assignment was only to prove his faith in Michael.
Riley attends a survivalism class with Kitty Shearman-Hayes, grizzled Colony teacher, and ML—, precocious eight-year-old with a coded name. Shearman-Hayes directs the youths through basic military strategy and spills some classified intel about the Colony's underground tunnel. Ben shows up with Jed Forsyth, the Colony healer distrustful of modern medicine. Riley confides in Ben, who, with some convincing, agrees to keep Riley's encounter a secret. Riley asks Forsyth about the tunnel and he, always honest, tells her where it is. Shearman-Hayes and Forsyth urge Riley, Ben and ML— not to trust traditional authority (What They Tell You).
Michael arrives and warns everyone about a new perimeter sighting picked up by security footage. Riley is petrified she's been found out—but Michael has seen other, more dangerous assailants than Jason and Cody. He places the entire Colony on lockdown and draws up construction plans for an electrified gate to increase security. The Preppers arm themselves for the real beginning of the End (Anyday, Now).
Planning an "evacuation" from the Colony, Riley emerges on the opposite side of the underground tunnel—back near the perimeter. There, she runs into Jason, looking for his lost iPhone. Riley reveals that she found it and, not knowing what it was, broke it. The two begin to learn about each other: Riley lives in the woods, doesn't know what iPhones or 5G are, and cut all ties to the outside world back in 1999. Jason uses terms like "lit" and "Google" and pales in comparison to Riley's survival prowess. Both feel lost within their respective communities, each yearning to be understood. As Riley helps Jason build a shelter for his Wilderness Survival Badge, they begin to fall in love (Alive).
Just then, ML— shows up, having followed Riley through the tunnel. She sees Jason and threatens him—but Riley assures her he is one of the good ones. Riley hears someone coming and tells Jason to hide; Michael shows up, having just gone into town to restock, and chides Riley and ML— for venturing so far out of the Colony on lockdown. ML— goes back into the Colony, upset.
Riley asks Michael what people he saw at the perimeter; Michael deflects the question, announcing that he will be collapsing the tunnel as a security measure—Riley's only escape route. Riley asks about outsiders who might not be brainwashed marauders—are they just going to let them die? Michael tells her not to worry about the Sheeple. There's nowhere safer than the Colony, and he takes Riley on a tour of the Colony's elaborate weaponry and defense measures (including an unregulated Glock, anti-aircraft guns, and a makeshift bomb) to prove it. He vows to give everything for the sake of his daughter's safety—anything to honor the legacy of her mother, anything to prevent what happened to her from happening to Riley (The Safety Song / Everything).
Ben discovers Riley packing a Bug Out Bag, hard at work planning her trip to the Scouts' campsite. Riley urges him to join her. Worried she's in too deep, Ben dissuades Riley from setting foot outside the Colony into uncertain territory. At the same time, Cody dissuades Jason from helping the girl who almost shot them. Jason promises Cody she is not dangerous, but like them in so many ways (Trusted).
Riley and Ben meet Jason and Cody at their campsite. Neither Jason nor Cody knows what Y2K is, but they offer to help her find out more. The only catch—there's no cell data out in the woods. They'd have to go into the city. After some arguing among the four survivalists, Riley ditches Ben, runs out of the woods and sees the city for the first time. She takes in the view—but the blast of city noises soon breaks her trance, and a truck comes hurdling towards her. She dodges it at the last second.
Riley returns to the colony, frightened after her first experience outside the woods. ML— finds her down in her bunker; she was waiting for Riley to tuck her in. ML— and Riley reminisce about their friendship; ML— has always looked up to Riley as a big sister, even though they have different mommies and daddies. Riley promises ML— she will be with her forever and always. As Riley tucks her in for the night, ML— sings a love ballad to her AR-15, recently issued to her by Michael. Riley listens, more than a little perturbed (With My AR-15).
Just then, Ben shows up. Riley tries to tell him what she's learned, but Ben accuses Jason of deceiving her. Michael arrives and confirms that Riley has been brainwashed. Ben apologizes to his best friend and escorts Jason out at gunpoint, loyal to Michael above all else. Riley tries to tell Michael that he has been wrong about Y2K this whole time, but Michael won't hear her. They each accuse the other of being blind to the truth. She challenges Michael about his perimeter sighting—and realizes he made the whole thing up. But fake security footage is not the only thing he has fabricated. Michael himself knows that Y2K is no threat, that civilization is not on the brink of collapse; he has been lying all these years to maintain his control. Riley desperately tries to wake her people up to Michael's deception, but they, trancelike in their mantra ("anyday, now...") are deaf to her pleas. With nowhere else to turn, Riley escapes the Colony through the new gate. She leaves Ben, ML—, and the rest of her people behind, with new determination (Crazy If You Will).
Back at the Colony, Shearman-Hayes and Forsyth check on Michael, who has been extremely despondent. They remember their lives twenty years ago: the dark places they were in, their forays into the world of prepping, the hope Michael gave them that something better was on the horizon. When the government and media failed to, Michael has always stayed true. And Riley would've wanted them all to press on till the very end.
Alone and guilt-ridden, Michael begins to lose touch with the reality he has created. Imagining the Preppers congregating around him in song, he grapples with the extent of his own self-deception (Michael's Dream).
Riley returns to the Colony, and she, Ben, ML— and Jason enact their plan to destroy Michael's credibility: Ben rids the Preppers of their firearms and kills the power; ML— sacrifices her beloved AR-15 to wedge the gate open, Jason serves bravely as a diversion. Riley breaks back into the Colony and professes everything she has learned about Y2K, her father, and the truth (Breaking Lockdown). Jason calls Cody and he, in on the plan, hacks into the Scottsbluff power plant, broadcasting a message across the city skyline in Morse Code: "Trust Her." With proof spelled out in lights across the sky, the Preppers gradually come to terms with their lives in the dark and Michael's years of deception. Ben and Riley reunite; ML— un-codes her name to "Emaline" and takes Riley's last name, finally her true sister; Riley and Jason enjoy a celebratory kiss; and the Preppers step out into an uncertain world for the first time in twenty years (Finale [Nothing's For Certain]).
ACT II: Breaking Lockdown
Fresh out of her bubble and ready for the world, Riley, alone, teams up with Jason and Cody. The Scouts introduce her to their small town of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Highlights include movies, rollerblading, and the fast food chain Winnie's Weenies, specializing in hotdogs with Twinkies for buns (Anything Is Possible In Scottsbluff). Riley is enchanted by this magical new world. Because even beyond the glitz and glamor, this is a world dedicated to the truth; where clarity is available to all people at the press of a button. It has to be, right?
Days go by and Michael finally tracks down Riley in the city. Desperate, he reveals he has struggled with bipolar disorder his entire life, and stopped taking his pills following the death of Riley's mother. Her passing was sudden and destroyed Michael's trust in the medical system. That's why he fled society twenty years ago, that's why he lied to so many people; he truly believed he could rebuild a society free from institutions, corruption, and unpredictable tragedy. And the only way to do that was to give a community something to believe in. Riley listens, reflects on how close she truly is with everyone at the Colony. But none of Michael's intentions justify his decades of reckless manipulation, and she cannot accept his final offer to take her back. Michael leaves her with these haunting words: "If you think the world out here is free of lies, you're only lying to yourself" (Crazy If You Will [Reprise]).
Ben, temporarily in charge during Michael absence, attempts to quell panic back at the Colony. He fears he is in over his head as apocalypse paranoia reaches an all-time high (A Sign). ML— is hurt that Riley broke her promise, afraid of what might happen to her. Just as Ben musters up the confidence to lead his people, Michael returns and relinquishes Ben of his duties. Michael, defeated, tells everyone Riley is dead—a victim of the wasteland the city has become. The Preppers exit in mourning.
Ben is devastated about Riley's death. He blames himself for enabling her until the very end. But just then, snippets of Riley's voice come through Ben's walkie-talkie—is Ben imagining things, or is Riley still alive out there? Does that mean Michael just lied to them? Finally waking up to Michael's manipulation, Ben resolves to track down Riley and find out what's happening (Little Ways [Reprise] / A Sign [Reprise]).
Camped out in Jason's backyard, Riley tries to call Ben on her walkie-talkie with little success; there is no reaching him with all the radio interference in the city. Alone, she struggles against a world that doesn't know what to believe in, wondering if her ignorance was blissful back home (Clearer In The Dark). Meanwhile, Cody considers if they've been acting irresponsibly; he wants to take Riley to a cult deprogrammer. And besides, if their troop finds out they're harboring someone with illegal weaponry, they could be kicked out of the Scouts. Jason accuses Cody of being the real cult member here, blindly loyal to an institution as problematic as the Boy Scouts of America. He reveals he is in love with Riley. With no hope left of convincing him, Cody plans to take Jason and Riley to the police.
Unable to sleep, Riley comes inside. Jason tells her Cody is going to the police—but not to worry, because he knows somewhere she can hide. Sick of hiding all her life, Riley refuses to go along with this. Her father's words still haunt her, she feels more lost than ever, and her people—her family—is so far gone... Jason comments that at least Riley has a family. He has gone through life as a latchkey kid with an absentee father and neglectful mother. His connection with Riley was as life changing for him as it was for her. As they reexamine their relationship, Riley realizes she needs to be with the people she loves (All I Knew). She leaves Jason alone in his empty house.
Heartbroken, Jason calls Cody to tell him Riley has gone back to her Colony. Cody knows this is dark news; he has never seen Jason this vulnerable. Cody ultimately feels for his friend and encourages him to run away from home to find her. After all, where would Riley be if she had never run away?
Jason follows Riley back into the woods, to Riley's exasperation. She tries to tell him that no amount of convincing will bring her back—until Jason surprises her with his request to join the Colony. Riley warns they'd never let him in—but Jason promises to do whatever it takes to prove his loyalty. Anything to be a part of something; anything to be with Riley. Riley realizes she can't let anyone else lose their future at the hands of her father.
Finally within range, Ben reaches Riley on her walkie-talkie, and the two best friends apologize to each other. Riley tells him she's coming home, and Ben reveals Michael said she was dead. Riley is crushed by this news. ML— joins the call, and Riley apologizes for never even saying goodbye. Together with Ben, ML— and Jason, Riley hatches a plan to bring light to her deluded Colony.