Jersey Boys Refuse to Grow Up: Review of ‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together’
Our hero’s lost his job. Can he re-find love and rock out with his high school pals to save their homes? ‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together’ is corny, silly, goofy, and very sexist.
How dopey is Gettin’ the Band Back Together? Very dopey.
Does it have a charm? It has a charm. But not two and a half hours of charm.
If you’re from New Jersey, you might like it. Certainly the audience I sat among loved every specific reference to shops, places, cafés, and the jokey refrain of its setting, Sayreville, in “Western Eastern Central Middlesex County.”
This is a show, directed with a loopy Labrador’s energy by John Rando, that sells itself shamelessly to its intended audience. Perhaps in the next few weeks, the company will start handing out fliers at Penn Station.
You’ll roll your eyes at that repeated geographical gag, and at much else in this musical, not least its hackneyed rock ‘n’ roll, ageing dreamers, reclaiming-past-glories storyline.
Ken Davenport and the Grundleshotz’s book and Mark Allen’s music and lyrics (with additional material by Sarah Saltzberg) conjures a New Jersey of some misty ’70s, ’80s, mostly white-person’s dream.
Here, the schlubby 40-year-old guy is still the high school rock rebel at heart; he still loves the girl, but can he win her back? Can he play in the band, Juggernaut, again? Has he still got it? Have they? Will the inner teenagers re-emerge triumphant?
This is the kind of musical where just the repeated mispronunciation of the hero’s surname, Papadopoulos—which is very easily pronounceable—is intended to get laughs.
Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis) has come home after a bruising brush with capitalism. He’s lost his job on Wall Street in big bad New York City. His high school nemesis, Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), is forcing people into foreclosure and snaffling up their properties.
This villain also has his own band, Mouthfeel. And so there will be a battle of the bands to save the homes of his mother, Sharon (an underused Marilu Henner), and his best friend Bart (Jay Klaitz).
To do this, the original band must reunite, bringing Mitch and Bart back together with cop Sully (Paul Whitty) and Rummesh, aka Robbie (Manu Narayan). Sawyer Nunes as teen guitarist-whizkid Ricky is a breath of disrespectful fresh air.
And yes, Mitch also wants to get old girlfriend Dani (Kelli Barrett) back; she’s now a single mother with a stroppy teen in tow, Billie (Noa Solorio).
It’s the kind of musical, where the woman are restricted to being adjuncts and foils for the men, and all underwritten stereotypes too just for good measure. Henner’s mom is all MILF-channeling, tight-trousered rocker-chic, who also makes sure there are enough cereal bars made for the overgrown kids around her.
Dani is a plucky single mom with nothing to do but wait and see who the right man is for her. Then there is Tawney Truebody (Becca Kötte), who is blonde and that’s it. Really. And she’s chosen as Robbie’s girlfriend, just as he faces an arranged marriage, another storyline from Indian-Character-on-Stage-Central.
Sully the cop is in love with theater, which is played for laughs because he’s a brawny cop who loves theater. Is he gay? That also seems to be an inferred possibility. One bright and distinctive player in the show is Tamika Lawrence as Sully’s colleague Roxanne, who has a zesty life to her but is given very little to do but react to Sully. It’s depressing to watch her character scythed to nothingness.
And so we are left with the men/man-boys and the songs. The songs: all that you’d expect. Rock out, man-kids, this musical’s for you and your dreams that you should never give up on, y’hear; don’t let boring adulthood shatter your dreams, man. Women will definitely find this arrested development hot.
Jam on the guitar, thrash away, and do it loud. Doug Katasaros and Sonny Paladino serve up all the drum and guitar action you would want, and their musicians do it so well, and invisibly—we think it must be the actors making all the noise.
The men: Mitch looks plaintive and good all the time; he’s a puppy in perpetual hangdog search of a bone. Forgettable, sweet. Do you really want him and Dani to get together? Sure, but not that much. Whitty’s Sully has a brilliant song set in the jailhouse; Narayan tries in vain to lift his character out of the lazy stereotype zone; but it is Klaitz who is handed the most-outrageous-song baton and runs full-throttle with it as he prepares to confess a terrible truth to Mitch.
This is a really fun, mortifying, gleefully rude song, in a Book of Mormon “oh my goodness, he just said that and in a song” kind of a way. There is also humor in the pumped-up, tanned, tight everything-wearing Williams and his weaselly sidekick, Ritchie (Garth Kravits), fudging what the villain’s dad said to him in jail and out—with paternal homilies left hanging incomplete or just mangled and terrible. The night I was there, Williams laughed as the verbal horseplay rolled around him. The audience laughed along with him.
But the funniest moment on stage, the thing that gets the longest round of applause, has nothing to do with the main story, and it’s a truly wonderful comic interlude; Ryan Duncan as Ken Styler, a sad, electronic keyboard-playing cabaret turn in a diner, late at night.
From under his terrible wig, Styler should be singing love songs for late-night lovebirds, but his songs quickly get darker, voiced through tears and increasingly desperate, anguished squawks.
When the brilliant Duncan leaves the stage and we head back to the main highway of silly jokes, predictable romance, and New Jersey references, it feels deflating. This fleeting seed of distinction is gone too soon, lost in the amiable, directionless winds of Western Eastern Central Middlesex County.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together, Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York City, is booking to July 2019.