'Gettin' the Band Back Together': Theater Review

Courtesy of Joan Marcus
From left: Paul Whitty, Marilu Henner and Sawyer Nunes in 'Gettin' the Band Back Together'
What happened in Jersey should have stayed in Jersey.

An unemployed stockbroker reunites his old high school band in this rare Broadway musical not based on a pre-existing property.

Before the curtain goes up on his new musical, producer Ken Davenport bounds onstage and delivers a combination of introduction and pep talk. He tells us that he hopes we'll have a good time, but more important, he breathlessly informs us that we're about to see that rarest of events, an "original musical" on Broadway.

The warm-up patter seems sincere, if a tad over-the-top. Not to mention a bit desperate (imagine Scott Rudin personally welcoming us to The Iceman Cometh, for example). But mostly it's inaccurate. True, technically speaking the show isn't based on a pre-existing movie or literary property. But if there's one thing Getting' the Band Back Together isn't, it's original. After only a few minutes, you'll be getting the feeling that you've seen it all before.

And you might have, if you caught the original 2013 production at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse. The show was apparently well received there, although the fact that it's set in the Garden State probably helped. When an offhand reference to "Exit 124" gets a big laugh, you know that the audience features a good amount of Jerseyites.

There is no small number of cooks in this show's creative pot. The book was written by producer Davenport and The Grundleshotz, a group of performers and writers who developed the show through what's described in the program as "improvisational rehearsals" (it's easy to believe). Sarah Saltzberg is credited with additional material, and Mark Allen wrote the music and lyrics.

The central character, Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis), is a stockbroker who gets fired just as he turns 40. Unemployed and broke, he returns to his hometown of Sayreville and moves back in with his fitness-obsessed, widowed mom Sharon (Marilu Henner, who, despite being technically old enough to play the character, is so youthful that the casting seems strange).

It turns out Sharon is three months behind on her mortgage and her house is about to be foreclosed on by local real-estate developer Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), whose name practically screams villainy. Mitch and Tygen have a history, since decades earlier their respective high school bands Juggernaut and Mouthfeel fought a Battle of the Bands which Juggernaut won. Tygen has borne a grudge ever since, so he agrees to Mitch's offer to have their bands compete once more. If Juggernaut wins again, Mitch's mom gets to keep her house. And if Mouthfeel wins, Tygen will have the satisfaction of knowing that he leads "the best band in western, eastern central Middlesex County."

Tygen, who still dresses like it's the '90s, already has his old crew of toadies in place. But Mitch must reassemble his former bandmates. They include Bart (Jay Klaitz), now the high school's math teacher, even though he admits he sucks at math; Rummesh (Manu Narayan), a dermatologist about to enter into an arranged marriage; and Sully (Paul Whitty), a cop studying for the detective exam even though he has no interest in being one. Sully, does, however, have a strong romantic interest in his fellow officer Roxanne (Tamika Lawrence). The band's original guitarist died years earlier while performing "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" as part of a Meat Loaf tribute band, so they recruit the teenage Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes), one of Bart's students, to fill out their ranks.

Since a story like this needs romance to deepen the thin plot, the show includes several. Mitch reunites with his former girlfriend Dani (Kelli Barrett), who's still bitter over his having left town after high school and is now dating Tygen. Bart reveals a longtime crush on Mitch's mom. Ricky and Dani's rebellious teenage daughter Billie (Noa Solorio) discover a mutual attraction. And Rummesh falls in love with Tawney (Becca Kotte), a Canadian vegan who owns a chain of "frozen yogurt stores without the yogurt called 'NoYo.'"

To say that the humor is unsophisticated is an understatement. The jokes are frequently hoary ("We're on, Mitch," Tygen taunts. "We're on like your prom date's dress") and such running gags as Tygen constantly beginning epigrams only to leave them uncompleted ("It's like my dad used to say: 'There are two kinds of people in the world'") get tired awfully fast.

But some of the comic bits, both physical and verbal, are very amusing. You may find yourself laughing a lot (I admit that I lost it at the sight of the "Mini-Hall & Oates"), although you won't be proud of it afterwards. The song "Bart's Confession," in which he reveals some very unsavory details about his rendezvous with Mitch's mom, is a hoot, as is the hip-hop rendition of "Hava Nagilah" performed by Juggernaut at an orthodox Jewish wedding. The thinness of the sketch-like proceedings does, however, beg the question of why anyone thought the show needed to be an overlong two-and-a-half hours.

The performers, many of whom contributed to the material and have been with the show since the beginning, are often genuinely funny, with Klaitz's shlubby but endearing Bart, Williams' cartoonish Tygen and Nunes' white-boy rapper being the standouts. Henner, clad in a series of skintight outfits, displays plenty of enthusiasm, even while handing out Rice Krispies Treats to audience members at intermission.

The score is strictly generic pop-rock but bouncy enough, especially with such numbers as the rollicking title tune. Director John Rando (Urinetown, On the Town) 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.

Venue: Belasco Theatre, New York
Cast: Mitchell Jarvis, Jay Klaitz, Paul Whitty, Manu Narayan, Brandon Williams, Marilu Henner, Kelli Barrett, Garth Kravits, Tamika Lawrence, Becca Kotte, Sawyer Nunes, Noa Solorio
Book: Ken Davenport, The Grundleshotz
Music and lyrics: Mark Allen
Additional material: Sarah Saltzberg
Director: John Rando
Set designer: Derek McLane
Costume designer: Emily Rebholz
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Sound designer: John Shivers

Choreographer: Chris Bailey
Presented by Ken Davenport, Hunter Arnold, Roy Putrino, Sandi Moran, Carl Daikeler, Broadway Strategic Return Fund, Rob Kolson, Marie Barton Stevenson, H. Richard Hopper, Richard Roth, Marguerite Hoffman, Mach 1 Partners, Diego Kolankowsky, Brian Cromwell Smith, Witzend Productions/David Bryant, Darrell Hankey/Trevor Coates/Jim Wagstaffe, Ladybug Productions/Laura Z. Barket/John McGrain, Judith Manocherian/Steve Reynolds/Doug Atamian and Rich Battista/BF Investments/Sean Attebury