We’re only a few minutes into this new musical when the set design makes it perfectly clear we’re not intended to take any of it too seriously or literally. Poor Mitch Papadopolous (Mitchell Jarvis) has just lost his Wall Street job as a stockbroker – on his 40th birthday, no less – and is forced to move back in with his widowed mom (Marilu Henner) in New Jersey. His trip back home on the N.J. Jersey Turnpike is staged with ensemble members driving cartoonish cutouts of cars like maniacs and explaining in song that Jersey is “like New York but you can pay your bills.” Designer Derek McLane’s design scheme is carried through the show, creating a Sayreville, NJ that looks like the sort of town the comic book hero “Archie” might have lived in, though maybe a bit older and shabbier.
On Mitch’s return to Sayreville, he meets up with the old high school buddies with whom he played in a rock band called “Juggernaut” – and their nemesis, a thuggish professional wrestler-looking type named Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), who never forgave them for beating his heavy metal band called “Mouthfeel” in a local “Battle of the Bands” some 20 years ago. Tygen hasn’t matured much since high school days, but he has become a ruthless buyer of distressed houses and is in the process of foreclosing on Mitch’s mom Sharon’s house as well as the home of Mitch’s old buddy and fellow band mate Bart (Jay Klaitz), a math teacher that is “not good at math.”
GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER is no easy feat for Mitch and Bart
The solution? Mitch agrees to a rematch in the upcoming “Battle of the Bands” to determine the best band in “eastern western central Middlesex County” on the condition that if Mitch’s band wins, Tygen will forgive both Sharon and Bart’s mortgage debts. The only problem is they must get the less motivated remaining three members of the original band back together. Their pal Rummesh “Robbie” Patel (Manu Narayan) is a dermatologist who really wanted to be a pediatrician and lives under the thumb of his domineering father. Their former drummer “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Whitty) is a cop trying to become a detective who really wants to act in musicals. With some persuasion and one outright threat, these two are convinced to rejoin the band. Those tactics won’t work on the remaining holdout - their former lead guitarist who died a few months ago. To replace him, they recruit one of Bart’s students, a white teenager who goes by the name of “Ricky Bling” (Sawyer Nunes) to suit his hip-hop persona. Bart threatens to flunk the kid in geometry if he doesn’t agree to play with this group of guys Ricky considers “really old.”
Thoughts of reuniting Juggernaut revive Mitch’s memories of his youthful ambitions to be rock star in the mold of Jon Bon Jovi, who actually hailed from Sayreville, NJ and was a local hero to teens like Mitch. But advancing age and career frustrations aren’t the only problems of these guys. None of them have steady girlfriends. Mitch hopes for a second chance with his old high school sweetheart Dani (Kelli Barrett), but she recently started dating Tygen. Robbie has agreed to submit to an arranged marriage to an Indian girl if he is not engaged by his upcoming 40th birthday, Sully is too shy to ask out his police partner Roxanne (Tamika Lawrence) and Bart seems to have a thing for Mitch’s 60-something but incredibly fit and sexy mom.
Rock songs in the key of Bon Jovi
Do Over is one of the 80’s Jersey rock pastiches written for the show by composer-lyricist Mark Allen. They evoke the sort of songs Sayreville native Bon Jovi recorded during the characters’ teen years. The high energy, high volume rock songs are played by on offstage rock band. There’s also an outrageous comedy number for Bart, Bart’s Confession, that is more reminiscent of a Meat Loaf rock ballad, and a hip-hop riff on Hava Nagila sung by Ricky Bling when Juggernaut is improbably booked to perform at an orthodox Jewish wedding.
McLane’s colorful cartoonish sets take us into the story’s various settings in Sayreville from Sharon’s street and her garage-cum-rehearsal studio, the police station and a diner, where an unfortunate lounge singer with his own regrets croons Second Chances. Rando never lets the action lull and it’s further revved by the athletic choreography by Chris Bailey.
Admittedly, the show is a mixed bag of bits with some working better than others. It’s not entirely clear to this Midwesterner who Tygen and his gangster-ish buddies are satirizing, or why he is even named “Tygen” (pronounced with a hard “g”). You too may feel that the writers could easily have edited some of the weaker jokes, and they let some of the running jokes run too long. Even so, the performers keep the energy at such a high level and the laughs coming with such regularity, GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER offers a solid and entertaining Broadway experience for middle-aged audiences, particularly those with male teens (who might not be so into FROZEN or WICKED) in tow. Frankly, it was refreshing for this reviewer to experience a brand-new show that is not based on other familiar source material like movies or a musician’s song catalogue. Unfortunately, the familiar seems to be easier to market and GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER will close its Broadway run on Sunday, September 16. It’s likely to have future lives in regional productions around the country where its gentle satire and rockin’ energy can once again entertain.
Through Sunday, September 16, 2018
Mondays at 8:00pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm; Wednesdays at 2:00 pm, Fridays at 8:0 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
111 W. 44th St.
New York, NY 10036
About the Author:
John Olson is an arts carnivore who is particularly a love of music, theatre and film. He studied piano, trombone and string bass into his college years, performing in bands and orchestras in high school and college, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While working as an advertising agency account manager, he began a second career as an arts journalist and is now principal of John Olson Communications, a marketing and public relations business serving arts and entertainment clients.