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A CurtainUp Review
Gettin' the Band Back Together
By Elyse Sommer
After Mr. Davenport left it to the cast to validate his warm-up spiel, I found myself wondering if he or one of his fellow improvisers hadn't been to see the still playing School of Rock that's still rocking audiences at the Winter Garden Theater and came up with the idea of making their show a band contest for a not quite ready for AARP membership rockers? Of course, that brings up a major reason why Davenport is taking to the stage to drum up audience enthusiasm, and why the Belasco Theater's doors are left open for the encore number to give passerby's a chance to see what a good time is on offer. The built in appeal of shows with an established fan base and the teen band makes it a kid and adult audience pleasers; not so with this band contest show.
So what about The Full Monty, another show that clearly inspired Davenport and his co-conceivers? Wasn't that a big hit even if geared to adult audiences? Indeed it was, but here's the rub: Its middle-aged contestants were more fully developed, les stereotypical characters, and the show featured a fresh score, style and humor. All in short supply here.
In fairness to the questionable value of the show's originality by virtue of not being a musicalized version of an established straight play or movie, a lot of the people at the Belasco at the performance I attended obviously had a good time. Most bought into the shticky jokes, gimmicky audience participation and predictable plot — for which credit is owed to the hard-working and able cast, director John Rando, his design team and Chris Bailey's super energetic choreography. And while Mark Allen's music and lyrics are more ear blasting than ear hugging, they do fit the overall mood.
The scenario begins with Mitch Papadopoulos(Mitchell Jarvis), the show's lead being fired from his Wall Street job on his 40th Birthday. And so he heads back to Sayreville the New Jersey town where he (and before him Jon Bon Jovi) grew up. His mom (Marilu Henner, shapely and youthful enough to look more like Mitch's sister than mom), a former band groupie, urges him to reconnect with the guys from his garage band days and participate in the town's annual Battle of the Bands contest.
As it turns out, none of the Juggernaut band members have left home. All are gainfully but not happily employed: Shlumpy, overweight Bart Vickers (Jay Klaitz), a high school math teacher. . . Sully (Paul Whitty) a policeman. . . Runmesh "Robbie" Patel (Manu Narayan), a dermatologist. Life has been a career compromise for all, nor have their private lives been any more satisfying. In short, once more competing in that annual contest is a chance for these "juggernauts" turned life's nebbishes to reconnect with their dreams and find romance.
To further pump up the predictability, Mitch and his band's arch enemy Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), has also remained in Sayreville. He fancies himself a very much with-it rocker (a claim supported by bravado and his having done one commercial). What's more, through some unexplained means, he now owns most of the town's real estate. But being a real estate tycoon hasn't diminished his anger that his Mouthfeel band was bested by the Juggernauts way back when. And so, he's thuggishly foreclosed on the homes of Mitch's mom and Bart Vickers to bully the Juggernauts to reunite and give him a chance to finally beat them.
Oh, and to add to the unsurprising complications, Williams is also now the man in Mitch's high school girl friend Dani Franco's life. Yes, the battle of the bands will also be a who gets the girl battle.
Since Kelli Barrett, who's the lead featured female was out on the night I attended, this turned out to be an "All About Eve" dreams come true for Becca Kötte. She did just fine as Dani.
Actually, if I had to pick the show's not-to-be-missed female performer it would be Tamika Lawrence who plays Roxanne Velasco, the wanna-be-actor cop Sunny's love interest. A similar choice for the indispensable contribution by a male cast member would have me zero in on Sawyer Nunes as Ricky Blin the Juggernauts' last-minute teenaged recruit to replace the lead guitar player who left Sayreville for the Great Beyond.
It's when the band gets a practice gig at an orthodox Jewish wedding that Nunes does a drop-dead "Hava Nagila" rap. It's a novel and somewhat edgy parody of Fiddler on the Roof. Nunes is terrific and his Rick's ability to deliver that song is a set-up for the only surprising revelation in this familiar, cliche riddled journey to a happy ending. Too bad that the book writers' relentless pursuit of audience participation has him shout "All you gentiles up there in the balcony. Now let's take it to the next level, yo! . . . When I say matzo, you say balls! Matzo!" That's when I found myself cringing and wishing I were at a genuine revival of Fiddler on the Roof (there's a terrific Yiddish version that's been a much extended hit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (our review).
That said, my disappointment in the tacky turn that Jewish wedding scene takes, was lifted by ensemble member Bryan Duncan's delicious star turn as a lounge singer in a local diner restaurant. Maybe the Red Flame Diner down the block from the Belasco could hire him for an occasional Saturday night appearance.
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Gettin' the Band Back Together
Music and lyrics by Mark Allen, book by Ken Davenport and the Grundleshotz with additional material by Sarah Saltzberg.
Directed by John Rando
choreographed by Chris Bailey
Cast: Mitchell Jarvis (Mitch Papadopolous),Kelli Barrett (Dani Franco), Marilu Henner (Sharon Papadopolous), Jay Klaitz (Bart Vickers), Becca Kötte (Tawney Truebody),Garth Kravits (Ritchie Lorenzo), Tamika Lawrence (Roxanne Velasco), Manu Narayan(Rummesh 'Robbie' Patel), Sawyer Nunes (Ricky Bling), Noa Solorio (Billie Franco), Paul Whitty (Sully Sullivan), Brandon Williams (Tygen Billows);Ryan Duncan,Nehal Joshi, J. Elaine Marcos, Rob Marnell,.Jasmin Richardson, Tad Wilson (Ensemble).
Note: At the performance reviewed Kelli Barrett was out, and the role of Dani was played by Becca Kötte and Becca's usual role of Tawney Truebody was performed by Lindsey Brett Brothers Sets:Derek McLane
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: John Shivers
Production Stage Manager: James Harker
Stage Manager: Cherie B. Tay and Kelly A. Martindale
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes, including intermission
Belasco Theatre 11 West 44th Street
From 7/13/18; opening 8/13/18; closing 9/16/18
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