BWW Review: MEDICINE THE MUSICAL at HERE Arts Center

BWW Review: MEDICINE THE MUSICAL at HERE Arts Center

Endless life and death scenarios, surging stress-levels, super-charged power dynamics and noble heroes in pristine white coats: we could fill waiting rooms with all the reasons why medicine is one of the most reliable modern storytelling backdrops. Take General Hospital, House, Grey's Anatomy, and more recently, New Amsterdam and The Good Doctor as evidence. It's surprising that a show like Medicine the Musical, written by Michael Ehrenreich and directed by Joey Murray, hasn't already claimed the gaping hospital-shaped space waiting on the Broadway stage (and no, that one musical episode of Scrubs doesn't count). But despite impressive performances from its cast, band, and production team at HERE Arts Center, this rock musical will need some serious re-writing if it hopes to fill it.

Medicine the Musical follows the emotional journey of a ragtag gang of bright-eyed medical students as they struggle to overcome academic hurdles and demons from the past to prove worthy of what their stern professor Crutch touts as "the noblest of professions."

The field of medicine in the United States is changing dramatically, as national healthcare debates rage harder than ever. Any modern theatrical undertaking of a medical tale simply won't get by on a 1990s/2000s image of what it means to be a doctor, which is what Medicine mostly projects, right down to the Dr. Gregory House-limp-with-a-cane routine. A minor sub-plot does feature a jaded professor who doubts his purpose in an increasingly impersonal system, but this single glance mostly overlooks the underlying issues and fails to meaningfully involve those most affected by them: the students themselves (or the notably absent patients, perhaps?).

Beyond its avoidance of modern medicine's current identity crisis, this show's script does little to offer the audience redeeming originality on other fronts. Its assortment of characters is so predictably cookie-cut; it's practically ready-baked. The rich white girl who wants to break free from her parents; the black student who barely survived inner city streets; the formerly incarcerated hotty with a dark, mysterious past-audience members could see these tired personalities coming a mile away. As the show progressed, I found myself waiting for the twist that would finally give them a redeeming third dimension. Sadly, it never came. Some of these stereotypes bordered on cringeworthily. I'm not black, but I'd wager the audience probably could have done without hearing the show's only black character sing about how people where he comes from "roam the streets like tigers in the night."

The show's score, arranged by Andy Peterson and directed by Nick Wilders, was overall beautifully sung and a joy to hear. Though its lyrics faced the same depth and originality setbacks as the rest of the script, it featured the blow-you-away power and rich harmonies you'd expect from a Broadway production, and is almost certain to get the audience moving. Most songs-while again compellingly performed-came off as overly-repetitive and unmemorable. A handful of more engaging exceptions like So You Want to Know How I Died and OSCE could point the way to what a more original score could sound like.

Despite Medicine's predictable plot and two-dimensional characters, the cast deserves credit for bringing great energy, talent, and chemistry to the task of telling this story. Backed-up by a driving rock band that doesn't miss a beat, their dynamic vocals produced several magical moments of harmonic sparkle, especially when combined during songs like the opening Letter in the Mail. Meanwhile, some smaller numbers revealed instances of vocal strain, when cast members either struggled to reach a high note or seemed to belt a little too hard-wrinkles that can no doubt be ironed out.

The entire cast made a heroic effort to reclaim their roles from a script that should have given them more to work with, though some seemed more successful than others. Sarah Stewart Chapin was delightful and endearing as Christina while Alaina Vi Maderal took full advantage of her unnamed role, perhaps garnering the most laughs and love with her peppy presence and zany antics. It should be noted that actors in less serious roles like these probably had an easier time making inroads with the audience by capitalizing on the comedy and cutesiness that came with them. One area where this cast does have some room for improvement is choreography, which presented as not entirely polished.

On the production side, this show did seem to strike the right balance between versatility and visual interest. Transitions were rapid and smooth-a testament to a well-designed, adaptable set and an on-point production team. Costumes felt appropriately selected to capture characters both inside and outside clinical scenes.

To quote Professor Crutch, "there's a million ways to break but one way to be whole." That's probably true of musicals too. "Break" might be too strong a word, but even when most elements of a show come together, one crucial missing piece can drag the whole thing down. Medicine assembles a strong cast, crew, band, set, and production team that are clearly giving it everything they have. Its sprightly score shows great potential as well. But if this show is going to be whole enough to thrive, its script will need some serious surgery.

Medicine the Musical runs at HERE Arts Center through November 18.

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From This Author Derek Schwabe

Derek Schwabe recently re-located to New York City from Washington, DC. A New Jersey native, Derek has always valued music and theater, with his own (read more...)

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