BOTTOM LINE: inventive, playful, entertaining
A fun musical send-up of all things '80s. For the theater goer who laments the bygone era of John Hughes films, but always secretly wished the nerds could make off just a little bit better.
Remember all those great teen flicks in the '80s: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Better Off Dead… Now mix those with the best of teen dance dramas: Flash Dance, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Dirty Dancing, and you get the inventive new musical The Johnny. The Johnny asks the question – what happens when the popular jock actually loses the teen tournament everything depends on?
In this case, popular senior stud, Johnny, loses the all important Cape Bluff High School Racquetball tournament in Act I to school nerd, Kyle, and like a country western song also loses his girl, his home, his respect. He spends the rest of the musical trying to find his way back to life on top, this time by winning the school talent show. Meanwhile Kyle brings a nicer, gentler kind of rule to his new-found position as king of the school by bringing nerds and jocks together for weekly bird-watching meetings and hang-out-time at the Boys and Girls Club. In this upside down world the only one lamenting the old ways is Bobby (played by Joshua Brandenburg) as a fantastic comic foil to Johnny’s all Americanness.
The musical is at its strongest in the creative song and dance numbers, but several of the scenes fell flat. David L. Williams who directed as well as wrote the book and lyrics, works best when exploring the humor of the piece and debunking the conventions of 80’s teen films. His lyrics are quite catchy too “Now you're second place and we’re losers again” sung to Johnny by his parents lamenting their inability to live a successful life through their son vicariously. “You can win vicariously, it sure beats winning yourself”. The musical suffers however, from a week book and some performances that miss their mark, but more than makes up for it with Grady McLeod Bowman’s hilarious choreography and the spot on send up of 80’s fashion designed by the talented Liz Toonkel.
Stand out performances include Derek Krantz, as jock turned tap-dancing fool Johnny, Jonathan Cody White, as Kyle, the lovable nerd with a heart of gold, Joel Abels as an Irish ex-racquetball player turned “Karate Kid” like motivational coach, and Rori Nogee as Lanie, the always overlooked “smart” girl at school. The well dressed, those '80s-running-shorts-ought-to-be-outlawed ensemble looks to be having a blast, and you will too.
The Johnny plays at the Schimmel Center at Pace University, 13 Spruce St. at the end of Park Row. Show times: Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm. Visit thejohnnymusical.com or fringenyc.org. for more info.