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Gettin' The Band Back Together

I want to do life without parole. — Sully

Gettin' The Band Back Together
Alison Fraser and Mitchell Jarvis (Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
This new musical takes pride, and without prejudice, in embracing well-worn cliches and in incorporating as many stereotypical aspects of human behavior as possible. It also empowers the kind of trite plot situation that would normally send shivers down your back. Actually, it has no right being as funny and as entertaining as it is.

This creation by Ken Davenport and a group called The Grundleshotz and Mark Allen who wrote the very agreeable music and snappy lyrics (inspired according to program notes by series of improvisations) has all the earmarks of a lampoon of those corny musicals about winning a contest or triumphing in the wake of impossible odds. It has all the visible hashtags to identify it as an anomaly of a new kind of musical comedy genre: Do everything you can to fail and see how well that can work in your favor.

John Rando, best known for his award-winning direction of Urinetown as well as for such notable Off Broadway diversions as The Toxic Avenger (which began its life at the George Street Playhouse) and the recent revival of All in the Timing, knows how to mold a rather shaky premise into an almost sturdy pastiche. You can't help but love a show as courageously presumptuous as this one.

When forty year-old Mitch Martino (Mitchell Jarvis) gets fired from his job on Wall Street, he heads back to his hometown Sayreville, New Jersey to be welcomed back by his mother Sharon (Alison Fraser). The compulsive, keeping-trim (in more ways than one) and sassy bleached blonde urges her son to round up the members of Juggernaut, the rock band of his youth— none of whom apparently have ever left town.

Fatefully, Mitch's return coincides with the local annual Battle of the Bands. There is not a semblance of any reality to anything that transpires. But the accumulation of overly familiar parts when put together, as they are here, turn out to be surprisingly diverting.

Initially the problem for Mitch is to round up the guys and see if they can still play. They are: (Jay Klaitz), the pudgy high school math teacher who may be having a naughty affair with someone's mom; Sully (Adam Monley), a policeman with a subscription to the Paper Mill Playhouse who wants to be an actor and also has a crush on policewoman partner Roxanne (Diedre Goodwin); and Robbie (Manu Narayan), an Indian dermatologist who appears to be heading toward a pre-arranged marriage. An unlikely recruit, in the light of a dismal and dispiriting audition for local aspirants, is sixteen year-old Ricky (Even Daves), who speaks like a black rapper, but who turns out to be . . .well, that's the biggest surprise.

What's at stake is the saving of Mitch's recession hit neighborhood. The leader of the local band, a thuggish, unscrupulous landowner/lease holder Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams) and his goofy sidekick (Garth Kravits)intend to foreclose on the residents and build a strip mall. If Tygen and his band win, they regain the trophy won twenty years ago by Juggernaut. What's also at stake is whether Mitch can win back the love of his former high school sweetheart Dani (Michelle Duffy) who has been claimed by Tygen.

Fraser, a two-time Tony nominee as well as a frequent performer at George Street easily takes claim of the stage as Sharon, who is clearly not anyone's idea-of-a-traditional Mom. She takes charge of the band and also of two rock-solid numbers "Ride On, Cowboy," and "The Battle of Your Life." Instead of wondering too much about the plot, it's best to just enjoy the antics of a fine company that sing, cavort, dance and play (actually pretend, as five splendid musicians do the instrumental performing behind designer Derek McLane's simply evoked setting of row-houses.

Jarvis (in his George Street Playhouse debut), as the impassioned prodigal, raises the musical stakes with his rigorously performed solo "One of the Guys." It's good to report that everyone in the cast seems to have taken ownership of their one-dimensional roles.

In this, its first production, the show runs about thirty minutes too long. Some judicious pruning would be helpful especially in the lengthy audition scene in which the parade of contestants seem to be rejects from the Gong Show. Also ripe for excising entirely is a scene in which the band plays a gig at an Orthodox Jewish wedding that's not only unfunny but tasteless. Any future for this show will depend on how serious the collaborators are about gettin' down to really puttin' this band in shape for a gig Off Broadway or for a life on the regional road.

Gettin' The Band Back Together
Book By Ken Davenport and The Grundleshotz
Music and Lyrics by Mark Allen
Directed by John Rando
Cast: Mitchell Jarvis (Mitch Martino), Jay Klaitz (Bart Vickers), Adam Monley (Michael "Sully" Sullivan), Manu Narayan (Rummesh "Robbie" Patel), Garth Kravits (Ritchie Lorenzo), Brandon Williams (Tygen Billows), Alison Fraser (Sharon Martino), Michelle Duffy (Dani Franco), Deidre Goodwin (Roxanne Collins), Emily McNamara (Tawny Truebody), Evan Daves (Ricky Bling), Heather Brave (Billie Franco), Ryan Duncan, Christopher Gurr, Tad Wilson (Ensemble)
Additional Material: Sarah Saltzberg
Set Design: Derek McLane
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Costume Design: Gregory Gale
Sound Design: Peter J. Fitzgerald
Orchestrations: Doug Katsaros
Music Direction: Fred Lassen
Choreography: Kelly Devine
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes including intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ (732) 246-7717
Tickets: $67.00 - $40.00
Performances: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri at 8pm; Sat. at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sun. at 2 pm.
From 09/24/13 Opened 10/04/13 Ends 10/27/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/04/13
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