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Review: THE GRISWOLDS' BROADWAY VACATION at The 5th Avenue Theatre

Review: THE GRISWOLDS' BROADWAY VACATION at The 5th Avenue Theatre

A funny new musical in need of new music.

Review: THE GRISWOLDS' BROADWAY VACATION at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Megan Reinking, Hunter Foster, Livvy Marcus, and
Nathan Levy in The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation
at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit: Tracy Martin

The Griswolds' have been to Wally World, they've visited family for Christmas, and they've nearly destroyed Europe on their vacations. And now, they've loaded up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and are hitting Broadway in the new musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre, "The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation". Are the Griswolds ready for Broadway? No. And by the Griswolds' I mean the characters as well as this show. But just like the Griswolds the show does grow and with a little bit of work (or a lot of work) they and it just might make it on the Great White Way.

Based on the characters from the popular series of "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies, we have The Griswolds. There's Clark Griswold (Hunter Foster), a well-intentioned buffoon, his wife beleaguered wife Ellen (Megan Reinking), and their two kids, Audrey (Livvy Marcus) who is about to go off to college, and the often-ignored Rusty (Nathan Levy). They are there to visit a college with Audrey and to see the hot new show in town, "Wilson", a musical based on the movie "Castaway". But there's a problem with the tickets Clark got from a Russian website. To make matters worse, it turns out Ellen's old boyfriend from high school is now the Naked Commando (Alan H. Green), a Times Square character (and a take off of the Naked Cowboy) who's determined to win Ellen back.

Review: THE GRISWOLDS' BROADWAY VACATION at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Alan H. Green (center) as the Naked Commando and
the cast of The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation
at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit: Tracy Martin

The show by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen has several things going for it and a few huge things against it. Good news first. It's more fun than a trip to Wally World. The book is just plain funny with its many references to New York and its denizens, and the ridiculous antics the Griswolds' get up to. Most notably the bevy of Times Square character knock offs, whose number was one of the few good ones in the show, and the recurring gag of Rusty constantly turning potential disaster into success due to the fact that he's just a nice kid. And I must mention the hysterical fake Times Square signs from scenic designer Jason Sherwood. I'm sorry, but what was the name of that massage parlor? (Chef's kiss.) All that plus so many more great gags and some killer choreography from director and choreographer Donna Feore makes this show a lot of fun.

But all is not rosy with the show. The songs are largely forgettable, except for the opener which repeatedly informed us that these were the Griswolds, and they are on vacation. We know, we read the title. Tell me something new. Furthermore they just don't move anything along. Most are pauses in the story for a gag. And while some of the gags work well, the aforementioned characters, or Madame Sherie (hilariously played by Jen Cody), or the ode to Cousin Eddie's successful fashion line (yes, he's here too and deliciously over-the-top crass played by Jay Klaitz). But for the most part, the songs, even those I mentioned, are just a lot of repetition to drive home a joke and lack substance. One notable exception, Ellen's 11 o'clock heartfelt ballad, "Doofus". But the majority of the songs need some serious help if they're to make it as a musical. As does the direction from Feore as the show lacks any kind of focus. In many of the numbers there's just so much going on that it all becomes a cornucopia of din.

But I can say the cast is excellent, and I do mean ALL of them as this ensemble kept the funny rolling. Foster is wonderful as the doofus Clark and hits all those character's high points but could have used some more variation. Similarly Reinking has a terrific voice and great stage presence but wasn't given much to stretch with. Same with Marcus as she was mostly pigeonholed into pretentious teen screaming to get her way.

Review: THE GRISWOLDS' BROADWAY VACATION at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Jen Cody, Megan Reinking and Alan H. Green
in The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation
at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit: Tracy Martin

But it was the supporting characters that made this show tolerable. As I said, Levy as the overly trusting teen Rusty was hysterical and nailed each and every moment from beginning to the (I want to see that show) end. Green killed as the scantily clad Commando (he never gets fully naked) with his incredible comedic timing and bouncing pecs. But if you were to press me with my favorite part of the show it would have to be Jen Cody. And not just any one moment of Cody's because they were all comedy gold. From her demented duckie to the dime store psychic to so many more, she stole every scene she was in. If there was one thing NOT to change about this show, it would be her!

I could keep going with little nit-picking things like how the headlights of the Truckster turned One Direction at the top of the show and then the car was facing the other direction when the curtain went up, or how one of Audrey's suitcases is stolen at the beginning and it's never mentioned or even noticed throughout. But suffice to say, this is a show with some solid bones. It's funny, with delightful characters, a good premise, and a lot of potential, but needs some serious work to be great. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre's World Premiere of "The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation" an "it could have been so much worse" MEH+. Work on those songs and tighten it up and you could really have something here.

The World Premiere of "The Griswolds' Broadway Vacation" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through October 2nd. For tickets or information visit them online at

From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting... (read more about this author)

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