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A CurtainUp Review
A surprisingly traditional song plot for the computer-age musical sets the trajectory. And the engine that drives it is the relationship between two central oppositional figures, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They provide classic character doubling — born the same year (1955) and starting out with similar visions — their polarized demeanors are exaggerated for theatrical payoff. Jobs (Matt Bradley) is charismatic, while Gates (Stanley Bahorek) is insecure. Jobs is cool, Gates is not.
Both of these driven guys under-appreciate their co-founders, Steven "Woz" Wozniak and Paul Allen respectively. And both will co-opt others' ideas and do whatever it takes in their pursuit of revolutionary technologies. Neither rival comes off as sterling. "The world is full of sharks, so strap on a fin." But the two Silicon Valley billionaires who started small and altered everything aren't hardened tough guys. They air their insecurities in song.
Perfect for a show steeped in the idea of computer tech wizardry, the sophisticated set features a huge motherboard backdrop with doo-dads, ever-changing winking lights and killer projections.
Microsoft and Apple's tech and business matters get glossed over and fairytale-ized in the service of musical comedy. Understandable. Who wants to sit in on business deals or a snoozy courtroom session, for example? So they cut to the lite-love interests (dynamic duo Brianna Carlson-Goodman and Lexy Fridell) who hijack computer/ moral compromise issues and obscure the tedious facts and details. But it might have been good to get the computer/legal-speak clincher down pat before going for the kiss.
Nerds, strictly hustle and bustle over substance, is a lot of fun. Scattered like fishermen's' chum to start the nibbles are adolescent nerdy little sexual innuendos that, of course, crack everyone up. There are also good jokes, and the songs are hugely entertaining because, for the most part, the nimble lyrics with their funny riffs presume that the audience gets it and didn't just fall off the old turnip truck.
The leads are wonderfully cast, and the strong, energetic ensemble knows how to get down. (Benny Elledge does an awe-inspiring Woz.) Nerdy members sing and dance at the Homebrew Computer Club. The faux villainous MIB staff at IBM performs a sharp, comical dance to "A Step Ahead." The downer song, "Down and Out in Silicon Valley," works. There's an inspiring assemblage of past heroes in "Think Different," and the sign-off number, "I Wanna Get Down and Nerdy," pumps it up. Still, Nerds could use a 'keeper' song that rises above the story's immediate circumstances.
The finale lightly addresses Steve Job's passing, which must be acknowledged, and Nerds picks up its gleeful forward momentum again -after the bows-- and ends on an exhilarating note. The standing O at the end was no pro-forma ritual.
Based on indications from two scientific barometers, it looks like this thing's got legs: 1) Good ladies room chatter at intermission. (No one talks during a bomb.) 2) My dragged-along "I hate musicals" companion was captivated.