BWW Review: Amy Staats' Fun and Frisky Look at Van Halen, EDDIE AND DAVE
"We can't talk about him, there's not enough time."
That's the quick explanation given to the audience as to why there's nobody portraying Michael Anthony, described "as a bassist with a golden voice and a mullet that will last twenty years" in Amy Staats' fun and frisky comedy about some of the controversies surrounding big-haired metal rockers Van Halen, Eddie and Dave.
Though this reviewer entered knowing little about the famed band, fans should immediately get from the title that the story focuses on the spotlight rivalry between introverted virtuoso guitarist Eddie Van Halen and the flamboyant showman vocalist David Lee Roth.
"This is my memory play," says Vanessa Aspillaga, playing the unnamed MTV-VJ from the network's golden age who narrates the proceedings. "It is brightly lit, it is sentimental, and not at all realistic."
Part of that lack of realism is that women are scripted to play all the male music stars, a choice that makes the audience think about the role gender plays in both their on-stage personas and their backstage friction. The company's only man plays the only woman in the story. Director Margot Bordelon's mounting has an energetic story theatre feel to it.
Aspillaga takes on a handful of minor roles, including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Sammy Hagar, the vocalist who replaces Roth when he seeks individual stardom, but her main function is to present "serious journalist" attitude as she explores the roots of the pop culture controversy that sets the drama into flashback, specifically the ego-saturated reunion of the title characters on the 1996 Video Music Awards telecast.
"We've been tryin' our best to be civil about this, but now it's gonna get a teeeeny bit nasty," says Adina Version as Alex Van Halen, playing the band's drummer as the cool and unemotionally mature one.
Alex and his younger brother Eddie are the classically-trained sons of a Dutch jazz musician (Aspillaga as their father) who says he is renowned all over Europe, but, after moving his family to Pasadena, works as a janitor.
As young teenagers, the boys play locals gigs as a band called The Broken Combs, but they don't take off until Roth, played with great cocky swagger by Megan Hill, starts strutting across the stage as their vocalist. It's the new kid who encourages the brilliant, but shy Eddie Van Halen (the playwright, with endearing naiveté) to face out more when he plays guitar, causing fans to swoon over his serious artist presence.
From there, the rise to fame, hit albums and sold-out arenas is fueled by the battle of artistic integrity versus personal stardom, with Omar Abbas Salem's Valerie Bertinelli acting as an "America's Sweetheart" version of Yoko Ono.
Staats states in her script that Eddie and Dave is "in process." She notes, "We have a music team in place and are working with a lawyer to do due diligence with any copyright and licensing issues."
As it stands now, composer Michael Thurber does a great job of providing melodies that suggest classic tunes.
But Eddie and Dave doesn't appear to be a jukebox musical in the making. Its formidable strength is in the garage band attitude used to tell the age-old tale of how clashing egos can both create art and mess it all up.