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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
While The Landing was built around three rather weak and poorly connected pieces, Kid Victory is propelled by a single, more powerful and attention holding story. That it's a dark story is not really unexpected for Kander's music. Though his songs are known for their jaunty rhythms, he and the late Fred Ebb earned their well deserved place as major musical theater artists by musicalizing stories that were more the stuff of serious dramas than shows with lively songs and and choreography.
Those edgy, danceable Kander rhythms and Ebb lyrics made for an intriguing point counterpoint to the dark places to which they took you. The corruption and violence rampant in Chicago during the 1920s worked hand in hand with the razzle dazzle melodies of the musical named for that city. Cabaret's songs slyly evoked the scary rise of the German Nazi party and its anti-Semitism. The partners' last collaboration, The Scottsboro Boys, chronicled a shocking case of injustice against a group of African-American teenagers with a catchy but fitting score and choreography, once again demonstrating Kander and Ebb unique ability w to turn pitch-black stories into stunning musical entertainments.
All these dark hits were based on true events. Kid Victory's chronicle of the aftermath of a kidnapping and and what led up to it is not rooted in an actual case history. However, that's not to say that a Google search wouldn't bring up variations of the story Kander and Pierce have concocted.
Mr. Pierce's lyrics are better integrated with Kander's score this time. But he still tends to come off more as short story writer than a lyricist-librettist with Joyce Carol Oates the influence rather than Fred Ebb. Thus while still short of the Kander and Ebb magic, Kid Victory is an intriguing, psychologically complex story that's effectively staged by Liesl Tommy and well performed by the 9-member cast.
With Kander's songs a orchestrated for a 10-piece rather than a 4-piece band (beautifully so by Michael Starobin), we get a richer taste of that wonderful Kanderesque tingle and bounce. Choreographer Christopher Windom even gets to create a tap dance number that adds a lively and fun interlude to the somber story. That foot tapping number's title —"What's the Point?" — did set me to thinking that the main point for its inclusion was to give the audience a touch of pure Kander.
Even though the flow from narrative dialogue into song and back again isn't always as organic as it should be, there are some lovely songs that I'd like to hear again.
The story revolves around teen-aged Luke's (Brandon Flynn) adjustment (or rather lack of it) to being back with his deeply religious mom (Karen Ziemba) and dad (Daniel Jenkins) after a year in captivity. It certainly lends itself to plenty of emotional outpourings to be expressed musically.
Unlike Ben Platt, the also deeply troubled teenager at the center of Dear Evan Hansen , this Luke doesn't sing at all. This could be interpreted as purposely casting a non-singer to emphasize that Luke so traumatized that he can still barely talk to anyone, let alone sing. Whatever the reason Brandon Flynn is certainly deeply moving in the part. The emotions tormenting him are evident in his voice, his face and his body language.
Everyone else in the ensemble sings, even Michael (a fascinatingly creepy Jeffry Denman), the complicated kidnapper. Luke's mom Eileen (Broadway musical veteran Karen Ziemba) makes us understand this rather unsympathetic woman who's overjoyed to have him back but unable to accept that he's not the same boy he was before the kidnapping. The actors representing the conformist community include Gail (Ann Arvia), the church's quack-ish substitute for a psychologist whose game leads trying to reach Luke with a faith-based game that ends up having the entire ensemble dancing around to a song called "You Are The Marble."
Luke's ex-girl friend Suze (Laura Darrell), like his mom, wants him back the way he was. Dad Joseph (a finely nuanced Daniel Jenkins) is clearly less certain that things should or could go back to the way they were. The final clarification of the non-communication between father and son makes for one of the show's most moving scenes.
The ensemble's outlier and the one person Luke feels comfortable with is the divorcee Emily (Dee Roscioli). But Luke's final self-actualization is set in motion by a lesson learned from his smart but psychotic ex-history teacher turned captivating captor via a strange Viking tale.
The single set by Clint Ramos accommodates the flashbacks to Luke's imprisonment, his anguished present with his family, and his more normal and happy times with Emily in her garden shop. Jacob A. Climer's costumes help to define the characters. David Weiner's lighting and Peter Hylenski's sound effects round out the production. And let's not forget a big hand for the band well positioned in the side balcony.
Kid Victory is an uncomfortable story and its music needs to be heard more than once to be judged fairly. If I were putting together a must-see list of new musicals, it wouldn't place near the top, but I'm glad I saw it. For sure you're unlikely to find a musical, large or small, in which the hero's redemption and good luck wishes come from the story's villain.
A spoiler postscript: The title is the name Luke used as his handle on the internet chat group where he met Michael.
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Book and Lyrics by Greg Pierce
Music by John Kander, story by Kander and Greg Pierce
Directed by Liesl Tommy.
Cast: Ann Arvia (Gail), Joel Blum (Franklin, Detective Marks), Laura Darrell (Suze, Mara, Dance Captain), Jeffry Denman (Michael), Brandon Flynn (Luke), Daniel Jenkins (Joseph), Karen Ziemba (Eileen), Blake Zolfo (Andrew, Dance Captain).
Choreography: Christopher Windom
Costumes: Jacob Climer
Lighting: David Weiner
Hair & Wigs: Cookie Jordan
Stage Manager: Diana DiVita
Musicians: Jessie Kissel, Anthony DeAngelis, Kiko Enomoto,Branne Lugo,Sarah Carter, Justin Vance, John Winger, Aaron Korn, Michael Kuennan, Greg Landis
Running time: 100 minutes
Vineyard 108 E 15h Street
From 2/01/17; opening 2/22/17; closing 3/19/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/18 press preview
Musical Numbers: Lord, Carry Me Home; A Single Tear;Plain White Card; Lawn; You Are the Marble;I'll Marry the Man; People Like Us; Vinland; Not Quite True; There Was a Boy; Dear Mara; I'd Rather Wait; Regatta 500; What's the Point; You, If Anyone; Where We Are
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