BWW Review: GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER Salutes A Different Breed of Jersey Boys
The past several Broadway seasons have seen extraordinary developments in musical theatre, with a steady stream of new shows, usually transferring from non-profit Off-Broadway, offering smart writing, inventive storytelling and expanded notions of the subject matter and musical styles that can be welcomed into the art form.
The new tenant at the Belasco, GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER, doesn't pretend to be attempting any of that. A sort of Jerseyfied combo of THE FULL MONTY and SCHOOL OF ROCK, this story of a down-on-his-luck suburbanite taking another grasp at the brief taste of pseudo-rock stardom he enjoyed before it was time to become a grownup is not a show that becomes your second choice because THE BAND'S VISIT is sold out. No, this is a Broadway musical that says to the fans who kept ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE running for three and a half months, "We've got something new for you."
Lead producer Ken Davenport co-authored the middle-America sitcom style book (think more Tim Allen than Kelsey Grammer) with a comedy improv troupe called The Grundleshotz. Sarah Saltzberg is credited for additional material. The score is by Jonathan Larson Grant Recipient Mark Allen, whose standard-sounding pop melodies and rocker licks, occasionally peppered with a funny rhyme or an amusing idea, would be best appreciated by those who love it when the tribute band takes time out from playing the classics to indulge in one of their original songs.
But while GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER isn't exactly a classic on paper, on stage it's directed by musical comedy master John Rando, who not only has created memorable theatre utilizing great material (URINETOWN, the most recent ON THE TOWN revival), but also has been able to produce a decent degree of entertainment from lesser ingredients. And never underestimate the power of a charismatic cast when each and every one looks like they're having a ball.
So even if you're not a middle-aged suburban dude who once had rocker dreams and thinks "Go and find your smile" is the greatest line ever written for a woman character in the history of everything, you might find yourself having a good time.
After a pre-show warm-up from Davenport, involving some audience participation that leads to a fun moment before the night is done, we meet our hero. Mitchell Jarvis, that strutting comic dynamo from ROCK OF AGES, plays it straight in this one as Mitch Papadopoulos, a nice guy everyman who gets canned from his Wall Street job and heads back home to Sayreville, New Jersey to live with his widowed mom until he can score a new gig.
Set designer Derek McLane, who uses a lot of drop curtains for this one (see if you can spot the inside joke on one of them) presents a James Thurber-like cartoon image of Garden State suburbia, as the chorus members sing, "Perfect beaches and snow-capped hills / It's like New York but you can pay your bills."
Played with warm humor by Marilu Henner, Mitch's mom Sharon is a cheerful nurturer who never lost her rebellious edge. She's keeping in shape with the help of a personal trainer, her son's high school crush Dani (Kelli Barrett), and developing a motherly relationship with Mitch's best bud from high school, math teacher Bart (Jay Klaitz doing the hyper-immature man-child bit).
Twenty-three years ago, Mitch, Bart and three of their pals, a/k/a Juggernaut, won the Western Eastern Central Middlesex County Battle of the Bands competition. But when Mitch left town to pursue a finance career in the city, that left the door open for the buff, strutting and inanely philosophical heavy metalist Tygen Billows (very funny Brandon Williams) to nab the next twenty-two championships with his band, Mouthfeel. The owner of a good chunk of the town's real estate, Tygen is so hyped to defeat Mitch in the upcoming battle, that he forecloses on both Sharon and Bart's slightly behind mortgages and will only show mercy if Mitch gets his old band back together and beats him.
Drummer Sully (Paul Whitty) is now a local cop who keeps failing the detective exam because his heart really isn't in his profession. He also has a secret yearning for co-worker Roxy (dynamic Tamika Lawrence). Keyboard player turned dermatologist Robbie (Manu Narayan), has been so unlucky in love that he's agreed to his father's choice of a soon-to-arrive arranged bride from India.
Since Juggernaut's lead guitarist is no longer of this world, having joined a Meatloaf cover band and expiring 9 ½ minutes into "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," Bart bribes one of his failing students to fill in. Playing a role that's perfect for young performers who have outgrown their careers as Zack in SCHOOL OF ROCK, 16-year-old Sawyer Nunes terrifically underplays his generation gap humor and strikes some mean chords as a hip-hop enthusiast who calls himself Ricky Bling. One of the weirder, but legitimately funny moments of the show, comes when Nunes grabs a microphone and entertains at a Jewish wedding with a rap of "Hava Nagila." ("When I say Mazel, you say Tov!")
It's shortly followed by ensemble member Ryan Duncan milking big laughs out of a one-scene bit as a morbidly intense lounge singer, reduced to crooning a cheesy ballad in a diner and having an emotional breakdown with every verse.
But the more inspired moments of GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER are outnumbered by limp one-liners ("We're on, Mitch, like your prom date's dress."), silly shout-outs to Jersey landmarks (Paper Mill Playhouse, for one) and an overplayed running gag where Tygen can't seem fully remember the adages he quotes. ("It's like my dad used to say: 'There are two kinds of people in the world.'")
There's certainly an audience for GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER. Whether it's large enough to fill a Broadway house for any length of time remains to be seen. Free shuttle busses from every turnpike exit wouldn't hurt.