By Tulis McCall
As the curtain comes down on The Vineyard’s production of Kid Victory by John Kander and Greg Pierce, you might be tempted to flip through your mental rolodex and count all the many musical genres that have been squeezed into this 1 hour and 45 minutes of non-stop action and some extremely beautiful music. Hymns, jazz, tap dance, ballads, snappy character tunes – and more. On the other hand, the lyrics, book and storyline – these elements are fragmented and elusive.
The musical’s opening number features Luke (Brandon Flynn) chained to a wall while church members in this midwestern town sing a hymn (a nod here to the choral arrangements which are stunning) about hope and faith. The scene transforms to Luke’s him where he, his mother Eileen (Karen Ziemba) and father Joseph (Daniel Jenkins) are in preparation – well Eileen is anyway – for welcoming the Fellowship members who want to celebrate Luke’s return.
Luke has been away for over a year. And not on a sabbatical. He was kidnapped by a man he met online, Michael (Jeffry Denman). They met up to play a game in which you can build your own boat and then race it against another player. Kid Victory was Luke’s online handle. It became an addiction for both of them, interrupted by Michael’s suggestion that they meet after he had deduced Luke’s basic location. Once met, and a magic elixir offered, the two disappeared.
Now that Luke is back home he has to readjust to his old life while he is a new person, one he does not understand or much like. His mother is drawn as an iconic “wife” which is a little disappointing. She dresses in shirtwaists and occupies her time cooking and doing laundry – that and praying. Eileen is sincere and puzzled by her boy who wants to ignore his friends and work instead at a local yard accessories store – Wicker Witch of the West – that has seen better days. Emily (Dee Roscioli) the proprietor, is an outcast like Luke, and the two of them find solace in each other’s company.
The story unwinds as a combination of flashbacks, in which we see Luke being alternately seduced and punished by Michael, and the present in which Luke has no guideposts to help him navigate his life. We hopscotch from spot to spot, and, like Luke, we find no port in the storm. While this is understandable for a character’s journey, it does not fare well for an audience.
The cast is superb. They are a perfect ensemble and carry out the task of handling this meandering material brilliantly. As the breadcrumb trail wanders, there are some seriously odd musical numbers including an homage to a father’s lawn, a single tear falling from the sky, and a song about the significance of colored marbles. Two highlights are “What’s The Point” sung by Blake Zolfo – reminiscent of “Expressing Yourself” from Billy Elliott and the elegant “Where We Are” delivered with raw simplicity by Jenkins. Like I said – the music is sublimed shows off Kander’s elegance and style.
In the end we are not more than a few inches from our starting point, but we have traveled miles. At the very final moment we are handed a conclusion of sorts that is flavored with hope, but mostly the ground we have traveled is strewn with unfinished business and unexplained behavior – a lot like life I suppose. This is after all a musical about a boy who was kidnapped and abused mentally, physically and spiritually. Overall, however, one gets the feeling that the ingredients of this tale were pulled off the shelf and used to fill the pot on the stove, rather than satisfy a palette. Too much blather and not enough specificity. And PS, Luke never sings. Literally or figuratively.
Kid Victory – Credits Music by John Kander; Book and lyrics by Greg Pierce; Directed by Liesl Tommy
Cast: Ann Arvia, Joel Blum, Laura Darrell, Jeffry Denman, Brandon Flynn, Daniel Jenkins, Dee Roscioli, Karen Ziemba and Blake Zolfo
Scenic Design by Clint Ramos, Costume design by Jacob A. Climer, Lighting Design by David Weiner
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.