New York City Theater
"Gettin’ the Band Back Together"
Welcome to the demise of Broadway. If “Gettin’ the Band Back Together” is a harbinger of things to come, break out the mourning clothes The juvenile new musical about a bunch of arrested adults who can’t wait to get back (yes, that’s the operative word) to their youth is brainless, loud, jokey and drifty. To be accurate, most of the audience lapped it up.
Maybe they were re-living their own early days of that great American literary tradition: trying to re-capture adolescence. The evening begins with a pre-curtain speech assuring us we’ll have a great time at this “original” musical. (Book by Ken Davenport and the improv group, The Grundleshotz, with additional material by Sarah Saltzberg and music and lyrics by Mark Allen.)
“Original”? Maybe in conception, since it’s not based on a movie, as are so many these days, and its score is not straight from the jukebox. But not “original” in result. The evening is so littered with clichés the audience is way ahead of the characters.
New Jersey (which has replaced Brooklyn as an instant focus of derision), is the setting, with an opening number that reinforces that state’s reputation for lousy car drivers. As a lyric goes, “New Jersey: It’s a hellava place to call home.” But home it is to Mitch Papadopoulos, fired from his Wall Street stockbroker’s job and thus forced to move in with his mother (the appealing Marilu Henner) in Sayreville (Jon Bon Jovi’s home town.).
Reacquainting himself with old buddies also dissatisfied with their lives, plus an ex-girlfriend, he’s bullied, as he once was, by mean, buff Tygen Billows. Having inherited a big chunk of the town’s real estate, hissable villain Billows is about to foreclose on Mitch’s home, as well as other properties.
Cocksure Billows accepts a bet that his resurrected high school band, the Mouthfeels, will win over Juggernaut, Mitch’s band of dissatisfied former classmates. Who will win: Subhumans or Nerds?
Yes, the dancing is lively, especially a challenge number reminiscent of the Mambo sequence in “West Side Story.” In fact, much of the show resembles other works like “The Wedding Singer” (Jersey again, but funnier) and “The Full Monty” (without the nudity).
Amidst the dross is occasional gold. The act two opener, a rap version of “Hava Nagila,” converts a “Fiddler” sequence into loopy joy, thanks not only to choreographer Chris Bailey but the thumping performance by Sawyer Nunes as Rick Bling, the Juggernaut’s electric guitarist.
The cast can’t be faulted, In addition to scene-stealing Nunes and Henner, Mitchell Jarvis, Jay Klaitz, Paul Whitty and Manu Narayan are fine as buddies. Brandon Williams is a comically narcissistic Billows, with Ryan Duncan as his dim-witted sidekick and Tamika Lawrence as a cop (both delightful).
Director John Rando helmed “Urinetown,” “A Christmas Story” and the aforementioned “Wedding Singer” with aplomb. His staging here is as snappy, but, this time, to no avail.
--David A. Rosenberg
August 21, 2018