In 2005, Ken Davenport produced Altar Boyz, which had appeared in the first New York Musical Theatre Festival (now the New York Musical Festival) the year before. The well-nigh perfect tuner satirized a touring Christian boy band raising money for their godly cause. It ran 2,032 performances Off-Broadway and has had any number of productions since.
Davenport has become a Tony-winning producer since then. But perhaps, for all of his intervening success, he hasn’t felt he’s equaled the wow-level of that first venture. It may explain why his name is above a passel of producers for another new musical about a boy band.
It’s called Gettin’ the Band Back Together, but isn’t intended to be an Altar Boyz reunion. This one follows the reunion of the Juggernauts, a five-member group from Sayreville, NJ, 20 years after they went their separate ways.
Let me trot out the cliché that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. In terms of this rock ensemble, however, it can easily be said that lightning does strike near enough to satisfy large portions of the show’s potential audience, particularly those who appreciate a modest story about recapturing abandoned dreams.
Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis, solid throughout) has lost his Wall Street stockbroker position and returns to livelier-than-you’d-think Sayreville to live with his mother, Sharon (Marilu Henner, in jaw-dropping shipshape and looking a year or two younger than Mitch).
Immediately, Mitch runs into former band members Bart Vickers (Jay Klaitz), an unfulfilled math teacher; Sully Sullivan (Paul Whitty), an unfulfilled cop; and Robbie Patel (Manu Narayan), an unfulfilled dermatologist. He also comes face to face with ex-girlfriend Dani Franco (Kelli Barrett), mother of rebellious Billie Franco (Noa Solorio), and romantically entangled with tough-as-nails real estate owner Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), a muscled and tattooed leader of their longtime rival band, Mouthfeel.
Since Mitch has nothing to do but chat up old musician friends, and since Tygen still wins Jersey rock-band competitions, it becomes fairly apparent (after an opening number called “Jersey”) that a battle of the bands is imminent.
Getting there takes longer than necessary and involves finding a Juggernaut to replace their dead lead guitarist — up pops young and sharp-tongued Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes). Along the way, plot-bloating digressions are taken up with Mitch’s and Tygen vying for Dani; Bart’s admiration of cougar-sleek Sharon; Bling’s puppy eyes for Billie; Sully’s craving for policewoman Roxanne Velasco (Tamiko Lawrence); and Robbie’s crush on Tawny Truebody (Becca Kotte), a tall, slim yogurt entrepreneur.
In other words, there are at least five couples for whom to find Shakespeare-like happily-ever-afters before busy-busy lighting designer Ken Billington’s final blackout on Derek McLane’s cartoon-ish sets.
This isn’t to mention the impending competition for which most of the audience can guess the ultimate winner. Then again, show-wise spectators may not be so sure. Nothing will be revealed here, but the outcome should satisfy one and all.
As written by Davenport and The Grundlehotz, getting to the final moment has its ups and downs. What’s The Grundlehotz? The program bio reports they’re a group of writers and performers who developed Gettin’ the Band Back Together through improvisation, in the spirit of A Chorus Line and Second City revues.
The story remains generic for the most part, but the occasional funny line does leap out, and the entire caboodle is made more than palatable by the cast — and by director John Rando, who’s never short of ideas for keeping the energy flowing. (Last spring, Rando presided over a musical adaptation of the 1973 Oscar-winning The Sting at The Paper Mill Playhouse that without question deserves Broadway exposure.)
There are several spots where Gettin’ the Band Back Together excels. The second-act opener features the Juggernauts entertaining at a Hassidic wedding with a hip-hop “Hava Nagila.” (Following the number, a scrim appears with the words “In-one transitions are back on Broadway” on it. Call it a meta-theatrical in-joke.)
Mark Allen supplies the score, and though he conjures blasts of rock that frequently sound the same, he definitely does come up with one creative number. At a Sayreville lounge, electric-keyboard whiz Nick Styler (Ryan Duncan) runs hilariously amok with a ditty called “Second Chances.” Allen also conjures Bruce Springsteen in “Best Day of My Life,” which Mitch and Dani intone during a flashback to a teenage date night spent at Six Flags Great Adventure. (The locale could just as well have been the Boss’s Asbury Park.)
And one song has me flustered. Wisely listed in the program as “Bart’s Confession,” it’s a bawdy number for Bart to sing about his dalliance with Sharon. Vulgar as can be, it is also, as Klaitz performs it, oh-you-naughty-boy funny. Just not for children’s ears.
Watching Gettin’ the Band Back Together — especially after seeing the Go-Go’s-inspired Head Over Heels and the Studio 54-inspired This Ain’t No Disco less than two weeks ago — it’s difficult not to think that two different strains of musicals are being prepped these days: what might be called the traditional musical on the one hand and what might be called the no-tradition musical — for younger audiences with little or no interest in, or knowledge of, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Is the early closing of the revival of Carousel handy evidence of which type of musical is currently winning the battle?