This garish, ultra-loud rock musical is infused with hard-working, colorful cast members who have the power with their overwhelming energy and hi-jinks to turn on an audience receptive to the show’s wave-length. The plot is a huge cliché, but an audience can take to the talented individuals who don’t exhibit a smidgen of self-consciousness toward the material and let it all pour out in the in-your-face numbers and situations.
Scott Richard Foster as the Host comes forth to set the tone by questioning the audience if it is ready to have a good time and persists until there is a roaring collective affirmative. Then it’s off to the races with Mitchell Jarvis as the star Mitch Papadopoulos leading the overture and the first number “Jersey.” The action is mainly set in belittled Sayreville, N.J. As I grew up near there, far be it for me to denigrate the area, even though I quickly escaped to more sophisticated Manhattan.
The book is by Ken Davenport and a collective called The Grundelshotz, with music and lyrics by Mark Allen and additional material by Sarah Saltzberg. The frenetic choreography is by Chris Bailey, and director John Rando, much experienced with superior stuff, injects a high level of spirit into the singing and band playing. Emily Rebholz’s costumes are mostly gaudy.
To set the story for you, Mitch is a 40-year-old stockbroker who has just been fired and now lives with Sharon, his still attractive and sexy mother, played winsomely by attractive and sexy Marilu Henner. Their home is in danger of foreclosure for lack of mortgage payments.
Mitch’s pal is Bart (Jay Klaitz), a sloppy looking high school teacher who prods Mitch into wanting to reorganize their band called Juggernaut from more youthful days. The incentive, apart from filling dreams they one had, is a band competition in which they could face-off against their old nemesis band, Mouthfeel, led by the nasty Tygen (Brandon Williams), whose entourage is about as ugly as one can get. Tygen also is in a position to foreclose on the home of Mitch and Sharon. Mitch’s band does get together, of course. Other members include drummer Sully, a cop who really wants to be an actor (Paul Whitty) and Rummesh Patel (Manu Narayan), a dermatologist whose father wants to push him into an arranged marriage.
What gives the show some oomph despite the inherent flaws are some dynamic numbers. In the second act a teenage guitarist, Ricky Bling, played by Sawyer Nunes joins as a replacement for a former band member who had the poor judgment to die. In the band’s booking at an orthodox Jewish wedding, Bling plays and sings such a rousing rendition of “Hava Nagila” that the yarmulke-wearing men and the veil-covered bride and her bridesmaids erupt in hectic dancing to his supercharged beat.
In an amusing number “Bart’s Confession,” Bart sings to Mitch “I slept with your mom” as Mitch listens incredulously, trying to digest that his buddy if her marries Sharon may soon become his stepfather. Henner as Sharon is very good at making eyes at Bart with bursts of sex appeal.
Yet another very funny song is provided by Ryan Duncan as Nick Styler, who at the keyboard in “Second Chances” desperately howls his angst to the skies. Kelli Barrett as Dani, on whom Mitch still has a crush, although they split up in earlier days and she is now the girlfriend of Tygen, makes the most of passionately singing her big number “I Just Want Real.”
If you want an idea of the verbal joke level, on the night I attended one of the biggest audience laughs came for the line about how to stop a cough—“Take a laxative and you’ll be afraid to cough.”
The band face-off itself comes across as anti-climactic, followed by plot strands that need working out. But the whole show ends in a blaze of rock and audience cheers for the collection of game performers during the extended curtain call. At the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed August 26, 2018.