By Donna Herman
I saw Gettin’ the Band Back Together last night and saw something I’ve never seen on Broadway before – a warm up act. Yup. Like when you go see a television show being taped and there’s a comedian/crowd wrangler who comes on before the show starts and tells jokes and gets the audience revved up and laughing. Just in case they didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing from the content of the show.
And while it may be the cheesiest thing I’ve seen done on Broadway, it’s very clever because it worked. Suave guy with a microphone runs up on stage with the “How ya’ doin’ tonight folks? Are you psyched to be here? What? I didn’t hear you! You can do better than that! Are you psyched to hear the band?” kind of thing. Gets the audience roaring, asks how many were in a band in high school, yadda, yadda.
The plot of Gettin’ the Band Back Together is sophomoric and unrealistic. Which is kind of what you’d expect when you have a show written by committee. In this case The Grundleshotz, an improv group, and producer/writer Ken Davenport. Stock broker Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis) turns 40, loses his job and has to move back to Sayreville, New Jersey with his mom (Marilu Henner). Bummer. Where he will, naturally, undergo a life transformation.
Turns out mom’s house is about to be foreclosed on by Mitch’s high school arch nemesis Tygen (Brandon Williams). Mitch and Tygen were lead singers of rival bands back when, and Mitch’s band Juggernaut won the trophy. Tygen, who made a fortune writing music for a 30 second toothpaste commercial, now owns most of the real estate in town and wants one last battle of the bands for the trophy and the mortgage. Tygen, an obnoxious, muscle-bound, Def Leppard wanna-be, has kept his band together. He wants it to be official, Mouthfeel is the best band in central eastern Middlesex New Jersey.
Mitch’s old bandmates have all moved on and gotten “grown-up” jobs, and, like Mitch, are all unhappy. Bart (Jay Klaitz) whose worst subject in school was math is, you guessed it, now the high school math teacher. Sully (Paul Whitty), a beat cop studying to be a detective, dreams of being an actor. Robbie (Manu Narayan), is being set up with an arranged marriage by his parents to a woman he’s never met, who is arriving from India in a week. Their old guitarist is dead, and the teenage replacement they find, Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes) who is a rapping, guitar-shredding ringer, turns out to be a nerd in real life. His old girlfriend Dani (Kelli Barrett) is a waitress who dreams of her own Pilates studio.
Absolutely anybody, including the proverbial monkey with a typewriter, could have written this story. It won’t shock you to learn that there’s a happy ending. Are there some laughs? You bet. Director John Rando of Urinetown fame manages to milk every moment for all it’s worth. The cast are all seasoned pros as well and do a good job of looking like they’re having fun up on stage. Despite a lot of real eye rolling jokes and moments.
And a couple of cringeworthy ones too. A note to choreographer Chris Bailey, and costume designer Emily Rebholz, both of whom do a fine job otherwise, the strings of a Jewish prayer shawl are NOT supposed to touch the floor. In the immortal words of Aretha…
And a note to absolutely everyone who had anything to do with putting this show on its feet, and parents of children under the age of 18, “Bart’s Confession.” What were you thinking? That goes way beyond cringeworthy into OMG, bad taste, yuch, see a shrink, get a room, did Woody Allen have a hand in writing this? No really. And I rescind my nods to choreographer and director over the graphic staging of this number. Ugh. Not. Funny.
As much as I scratch my head over it, the audience I saw it with seemed to love it and gave it a standing ovation. Oy.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together Book by Ken Davenport & The Grundelshotz; Music and Lyrics by Mark Allen, Additional Material by Sarah Saltzberg, Directed by John Rando, Choreographed by Chris Bailey, Music Direction by Sonny Paladino
WITH: Mitchell Jarvis (Mitch Papadopoulos); Jay Klaitz (Bart Vickers); Paul Whitty (Sully Sullivan); Manu Narayan (Rummesh “Robbie” Patel); Brandon Williams (Tygen Billows); Marilu Henner (Sharon Papadopoulos); Kelli Barrett (Dani Franco); Garth Kravits (Ritchie Lorenzo); Tamika Lawrence (Roxanne Velasco); Becca Kotte (Tawney Truebody); Sawyer Nunes (Ricky Bling); Noa Solorio (Billie Franco); Ryan Duncan (Ensemble); Nehal Joshi (Ensemble); J. Elaine Marcos (Ensemble); Rob Marnell (Ensemble); Jasmin Richardson (Ensemble); Tad Wilson (Ensemble)
BAND: Sonny Paladino (Conductor/Keyboards); Kevin Ramessar (Associate Conductor / Guitar / Keyboards); Aurelien Budynek (Guitar); Justin Rothberg (Guitar); Winston Roye (Bass); Joe Bergamini (Drums / Percussion); Jeff Marder (Electronic Music Programmer); John Miller (Music Coordinator).
Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Lighting Design by Ken Billington; Sound Design by John Shivers; Hair/Wig and Makeup Design by J. Jared Janas; Orchestrations by Doug Katsaros & Sonny Paladino; Vocal arrangements by Sonny Paladino & Mark Allen; Associate Director, Dan Barron; Associate Choreographer, Beth Crandall; Production Manager, Juniper Street Productions; Casting by Eisenberg/Beans Casting; Press Agent, Boneau/Bryan-Brown; Associate Producers Kayla Greenspan & Valerie Novakoff; Production Stage Manager, James Harker.
Presented by Ken Davenport, Hunter Arnold, Roy Putrino and Scott Abrams. At the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Belasco Theatre at the Box Office Mon-Sat 10am – 8:30pm & Sun 12pm to 7:30pm; or by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200; or online by visiting https://www.telecharge.com.