Theater review by Adam Feldman
You can smell the flop sweat before Gettin’ the Band Back Together even begins, as Ken Davenport—the show’s lead producer and also, not coincidentally, its principal author—takes the stage with a handheld mic to deliver a curtain speech. “What you’re about to see is one of those rare things on Broadway these days: a totally original musical,” he claims. But although the show is not based on any single preexisting souce, it is, in fact, supremely unoriginal, from its formulaic ’90s-movie plot to its instantly forgettable ’80s-rock score. A community-theater vanity production that has somehow surfaced at a Broadway house, it is schlocky at every turn.
In essence the show is a fusion of Rock of Ages, minus the hit songs, and The Full Monty, minus the sincerity, charm and character development. Mitchell Jarvis plays Mitch, a 40-year-old New York stockbroker who loses his job and returns to his New Jersey hometown to move in with his mother, Sharon (Marilu Henner). To save her from eviction, Mitch must reassemble his high-school rock combo and compete a week later in a Battle of the Bands against his preening high-school rival, Tygen (Brandon Williams), who is now a villainous real-estate tycoon. Joining Mitch on this unlikely man-child odyssey are math teacher Bart (Jay Klaitz), inept cop Sully (Paul Whitty) and dermatologist Robbie (Manu Narayan), whose stereotypical Indian dad is forcing him into an arranged marriage; rounding out the group is a white teenager who styles himself as a thug and calls himself Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes). Ricky, by the way, comes out as Jewish when the gang is booked at an orthodox Jewish wedding (“I’s chosen, yo”), leading to the musical’s nadir: a mortifying Jewish-themed rap that turns into a call-and-response session with the audience. “When I say matzo, you say balls!” he yells into the crowd. “Matzo!” Balls.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together gives us no reason to care about the insipid Mitch—who, in the age of Facebook, somehow knows nothing about what has happened in his hometown for the past 20 years—nor does it even treat the band’s reunion with much enthusiasm. We barely see the guys rehearsing, and two of them have to be blackmailed into joining the group at all, but the show awards them women as participation prizes. Mitch’s love interest is played by the talented Kelli Barrett, whose career to date suggests the result of an inadequately specific wish to a genie. (“Yes, yes, you will originate roles in three Broadway musicals!” the malevolent spirit cackled as he readied the scripts for Baby It’s You, Doctor Zhivago and this.)
As two-dimensional as Derek McLane’s cartoon sets, Gettin’ the Band Back Together aspires to a knowing attitude toward its own silliness, as in a Ben Stiller movie. But it’s not sharp enough to pull off the gambit; you can’t tell if it’s winking or just has something weird in its eye. (Director John Rando had the same trouble in the infamous Dance of the Vampires.) Even the show’s best bits get pounded flat, such as a funny running joke involving Tygen’s father that is ruined by actors who are scripted to pretend to break character and crack themselves up. Whatever quotation marks this musical might want to put around “stupid” have melted away, leaving only desperate salesmanship. “AREN’T THEY AMAZING?” screamed one actress into my face as she ran up the aisle in the climactic scene. I didn’t need to answer her. Both of us knew.
Belasco Theatre (Broadway). Book by Ken Davenport and the Grundleshotz. Music and lyrics by Mark Allen. Directed by John Rando. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.