Middle-age urges to re-live old garage band pipe dreams are typically best kept to dank basements and sound-proofed garages, and Broadway’s Gettin’ The Band Back Together doesn’t exactly prove otherwise. Still, the playful musical is more infectious than you might expect.
Be warned, though: Enjoyment of Gettin’ The Band Back Together will be in direct proportion to a tolerance for not-so-young guys making guitar faces and devil horn hand gestures for two and a half hours.
The rock musical, which opens tonight at the Belasco Theatre, is an intentionally over-the-top tale in which newly jobless 40-year-old Manhattan stockbroker Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvas) moves back in with his New Jersey mom (Marilu Henner), meets up with old high school buddies, reunites with the girl who got away and, of course, lives out the musical’s title to win a local Battle of the Bands. Various homes are at stake, old grudges reactivated, personal futures endangered and marriages (or prospects thereof) placed at risk.
Really, don’t ask. The musical barely cares about the details. When the two rival bands at the center of the plot – lusting over the trophy, the girl, the real estate and the bragging rights that go along with being the best band in Jersey’s Western Eastern Central Middlesex County – survive the two-minute winnowing process from nearly 200 contestants, the emcee asks the Broadway audience whether it seriously imagined any other outcome.
Less expected are the high-spirited laughs that can still be squeezed from a well-worn Fully Monty set-up – blokes then, dudes now; nudes then, shredders now.
Played out on Derek McLane’s campy, community-theater-style set (cars are painted flats toted on wheels) and costumed by Emily Rebholz with a hard-to-pinpoint, generically ’80s-’90s MTV flamboyance, Gettin’ The Band is pitched squarely at the Mitches of the world – middle age, white, and with an undying reverence for a narrowly programmed musical youth.
Credit goes mostly to the exuberant cast of largely unknowns – Henner, as Mitch’s MILF mom (they said it, not me) is the most familiar, and the affection she’s earned since Taxi is well-utilized here. Director John Rando (Urinetown) cranks up the knowing winks and fist-pumping classic-rock nostalgia to 11.
Mark Allen’s music sticks to the anthemic and/or power ballad, with some white-boy rap flourishes here and there courtesy of Sawyer Nunes, the young actor from Finding Neverland who here plays a Beastie Boys-like phenom recruited by Mitch’s band. Nunes shows off some good guitar playing, and energizes the show with an amped-up hip-hop Hava Nagila at an Orthodox Jewish wedding (“I say Mazel/You say Tov!”).
That’s about as sophisticated as the lyrics get, and Davenport’s book, developed A Chorus Line-style through the improvisations of acting group The Grundleshotz, lets few jokes go unrepeated. Not even audience favorite Brandon Williams, as the villainous spray-tanned heavy metal hero turned dastardly foreclosure king Tygen Billows, can’t get away with mispronouncing “Papadopoulos” more than a few times.
And given the musical’s two-or-three year gestation period, director Rando had plenty of time to trim the repetitions (and cut a couple gratuitous stereotypes from the secondary character line-up). Every bar band has to learn when its riffs are wearing thin.