Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kid Victory


One look at Clint Ramos’s deliberately dreary set design featuring a cluttered basement with a set of chains hanging on the wall put me on edge even before this very dark musical at the Vineyard Theatre began. It is hard to say much about it without spoiling the experience, but I will try. Luke (Brandon Flynn) is a teenager who has returned to his God-fearing Kansas family after disappearing under murky and possibly sinister circumstances for almost a year. Readjustment is difficult for all concerned. Luke’s mother Eileen (Karen Ziemba) wants to sweep everything under the rug and proceed as if nothing happened. Luke’s quiet father Joseph (Daniel Jenkins) appears to Luke to be avoiding him. Emily (Dee Roscoli) is a free-spirited shop owner Luke can be open with because she did not know him before his disappearance. Gail (Ann Arvia) is a well-meaning church member with an unusual approach to healing. Michael (Jeffry Denman) is a former history teacher with whom Luke shares an interest in boats. Suze (Laura Darrell) just wants Luke to be her boyfriend again. Mara (Darrell again) is Emily’s estranged daughter. Detective Marks (Joel Blum) thinks that Luke is withholding information. Andrew (Blake Zolfo) is a young man that Luke briefly meets. The story is told in fragments that move back and forth in time. To my surprise, I liked Greg Pierce’s book far more than John Kander’s music. In general, I did not think the music either heightened emotions or advanced the plot. There is a dance number that is wildly incongruous with the rest of the show. There are two or three characters that could easily be dispensed with. I really think the material would have worked better as a play without music. There are many strong points — fitting together the pieces of a complex story, keeping the audience waiting for the title character to burst into song, throwing in a few surprises, ending with a genre-defying scene. The cast is uniformly strong and the story is consistently interesting. Liesl Tommy’s direction is mostly assured, but occasionally leaves characters doing nothing for long periods. I admire Kander and Pierce for taking on such a difficult subject, but am not sure that musicalizing it was the best approach. Running time: one hour 45 minutes; no intermission.

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