Monday, February 18, 2008

Smells Like Teen Spirit - Glory Days and High School Musical On Tour - Musical Reviews

Glory Days - Signature Theatre - Arlington, VA (Greater Washington DC)
Music and Lyrics by Nick Blamiere, Book by James Gardiner, Directed by Eric Schaeffer

High School Musical On Tour - National Theatre - Washington DC
Book by David Simpatico, based on the Disney Channel movie Written by Peter Barsocchini, Songs by Matthew Garrard, Robbie Nevil, Ray Cham, Gregg Cham, Andrew Seeley, Randy Peterson, Kevin Quinn, Andy Dodd, Adam Watts, Bryan Louiselle, David N. Lawrence, Faye Greenberg and Jamie Houston. Directed by Jeff Calhoun.

After touring the great monuments and museums in Washington DC, what better way to check out the perfect current representation of American culture than to see High School Musical On Tour?!! Look, my brain needed a break and I actually think the theatrical version improves upon the original cheesefest and turns it into a spirited positive musical that's full of youthful hope and a corporate version of teen angst and love (it's Disney and it's super clean but sometimes I don't think there is anything wrong with that!). And um, yeah, I've actually seen this before. Twice. Now thrice. Look, John Jeffrey Martin as Troy is dreamy and I love the new arrangement for "Bop to the Top" during the audition scene and what's wrong with a cheery good natured musical that is a great intro to musicals for kids that's cheesy fun for adults too?

So if High School Musical is the idealistic only-in-musicals-written-for-Disney look at the teenage world, the terrific new musical Glory Days (with the photo above reminiscent of the original HSM television movie promo) takes that nostalgia and slowly reminds us back to mundane reality, where 4 guy best friends from high school, reunite only a year after high school graduation, and where the fractures of life changes are already starting to show, changing the relationships of these 4 boys possibly forever.

Sure, you could dismiss the four 19 year olds with their petty problems and their silly reason for reuniting, but it's just a surface gloss that covers the underlining things that the direction in their lives are about to embark on, and the fresh young writers Nick Blamiere and James Gardiner have created a fresh imperfect new musical that is still full of exciting possibilities and observations about growing up in the current generation that is truthfully biting and yet universally relatable. Yes, everyone grows up, people change, friends change and drift apart, and we all know it happens, but Blamiere and Gardiner have repackaged it into something small, simple but emotionally affecting, and of course, set to music as a musical.

The four guys starts off fitting the stereotypes, there's our narrative introspective observant one, Will (an affable Steven Booth, 2 photos above), Andy, the confident frat boy (Andrew C. Call, above, playing the role to perfection, adding a fully dimensional character behind someone that is admittedly dumb and simple), Jack, the sensitive one (Jesse JP Johnson, below, who emotionally shines most when singing), and Skip, the intellectual one who has become apathetic (Adam Halpin, who perfectly imbues half the Ivy league college kids I knew) but when a revelation is revealed (through song of course) by Jack (it's a musical about boys, it had to be that someone is gay), it sets off events that eventually lead to the break up of these four best friends, one that had already been hinted at their initial reunion, only a year after they had separated from their high school lives, where they initially bonded for failing to land onto the football team.

At times it could be probably corny, but with energetic direction and performances, an awesomely simplistic beautiful set and songs, that while at times sound the same and have that generic pop rock sound, still do the trick of keeping the show into emotional realism. The show may touch the suburban American male set more than others (I went to an all-boys Catholic school on the edge of Toronto, where I hilariously/embarrassingly failed while trying out for the rugby team in my delusional pursuit to be well-rounded so I think I "got" this musical more than my female friend that accompanied me to this musical) with a rawer, more "real"sound (than most new American musicals) and a fresh voice to something that is quite universal in our days growing up. Think of it as Spring Awakening "lite" brought back to modern day suburban America.

Sadly, the show closed yesterday (actually, HSMOT closed in W.DC yesterday as well and moves on with the tour) but I do hope it remounts somewhere (it would be perfect Off-Broadway). You can hear a few of the songs on the writers website (if you right click, you can download them).

UPDATE: Glory Days is moving to Broadway! (Mar. 19, 2008) (Link to promotional discount code deal added in link! (Mar. 30, 2008)

Glory Days - **** (4 stars out of 5)

High School Musical On Tour - **** (4 stars out of 5) (although the sound system in the National Theatre seemed to blur some of the vocals where it seemed set up for a bigger venue like the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto where the sound was much better).

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