I saw Gettin’ the Band Back Together last night at the Belasco Theatre 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.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"When a Broadway show needs a preshow warm-up, what follows is likely half-baked. At least that’s the case with Gettin' The Band Back Together, the empty-headed entertainment that opened on Monday at the Belasco Theater. In a scripted welcome before the curtain, Ken Davenport, the lead producer and a co-author of the book, delivers a supercharged spiel that bodes ill — and begins with a whopper. “What you’re about to see is one of those rare things on Broadway these days,” he says. “A totally original musical.” To the extent that Gettin’ the Band Back Together is not based on a specific pre-existing property, he’s technically right. But originality isn’t novelty, and the show is such a calculated rehash of a million tired tropes that it can best be described with Broadway math: School of Rock plus The Full Monty divided by The Wedding Singer — and multiplied by zero."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"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."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"To its credit, Gettin’ the Band Back Together explores with far less smug condescension the themes of the current Broadway play Straight White Men, which would be a much better title for this musical."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"The score is strictly generic pop-rock but bouncy enough, especially with such numbers as the rollicking title tune. Director John Rando keeps things moving at a sufficiently brisk pace, but it's a mystery why he felt the need to have the performers constantly jump offstage and race down the aisles as if heading for the exits. It makes it look as if they're trying to escape before the reviews come in."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"Although simplistic by design, the script is funny without being hilarious, grooving along mainly on its many goofy throwaway lines... Cheap laughs? You bet, but even cheap laughs count; and let’s admit it — it feels so good to laugh real laughs on Broadway."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...