'Kid Victory': Theater Review

Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
Brandon Flynn and Jeffrey Denman in 'Kid Victory'
This dark musical fails to do justice to its disturbing subject matter.

A teenager struggles to live with the aftermath of a horrific crime in this new musical by legendary composer John Kander, of 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret' fame, and playwright Greg Pierce.

If you saw the 2015 Oscar-winning movie Room — about a young mother and her 5-year-old son being held prisoner by a sexual predator — and thought to yourself, “What would really enhance this story is singing and dancing,” then Kid Victory is the show for you.

Not that this off-Broadway musical receiving its New York premiere is related to the film, mind you. But it certainly feels familiar in its depiction of the travails of a 17-year-old boy readjusting to life at his Kansas home after being held captive for a year by an older man who abused him. The show marks the second collaboration, after The Landing, between legendary composer John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman) and playwright Greg Pierce (author of Slowgirl, and the nephew of actor David Hyde Pierce).

There is, of course, nothing wrong, with musicals dealing with dark, disturbing themes. But they need to be significantly better than this disjointed, tedious effort, which is hardly enhanced by Kander’s atypically underwhelming score. The show might have been marginally more effective as a straight play, although even then it wouldn’t have offered anything particularly new.

The title refers to the online moniker of its central character, Luke (Brandon Flynn), who uses the name when playing an internet boat racing game. It’s there that he meets his future captor, Michael (Jeffry Denman), a former history teacher. As they continue playing the game over several months, Michael, discovering that Luke doesn’t live far away, suggests that they meet in person.

Further details are depicted in flashbacks, after Luke gets away and struggles to resume his life with his religious mom (Karen Ziemba); taciturn father (Daniel Jenkins); and his old girlfriend (Laura Darrell), who doesn’t understand why he’s now so emotionally distant. He’s also forced to deal with a suspicious detective (Joel Blum), and takes a job working at a financially struggling garden supply store run by the bohemian Emily (Dee Roscioli), with whom he forms a close bond.

Along the way, there are some surprising, if not especially convincing, plot twists that shift our perception of what we’ve been witnessing. The storyline generally feels confusing, overly cluttered with incidents and minor characters that don’t add much to the overall impact.

The story’s darkness is complemented by Kander’s melodic but distinctly downbeat music, which, although beautifully orchestrated by Michael Starobin and sung by the ensemble, fails to make much of an impression. The notable exception is “What’s the Point?," a jarringly jaunty number delivered late in the evening that even features exuberant tap dancing. But for all the brief pleasure the song provides, it doesn’t mesh with the dourness that precedes it. Even the set design — depicting the cluttered basement apartment in which Luke was confined and can’t escape from emotionally — feels oppressive.

Under Liesl Tommy's direction, the acting is fine, with Flynn moving as the troubled teen; Roscioli vibrantly appealing as his employer; and Denman genuinely creepy as the pedophile. But the performers’ efforts are undercut by a show that strains for emotional profundity and instead seems merely exploitative.

Venue: Vineyard Theatre, New York
Cast: Ann Arvia, Joel Blum, Laura Darrell, Jeffrey Denman, Brandon Flynn, Daniel Jenkins, Dee Roscioli, Karen Ziemba, Blake Zolfo
Book and lyrics: Greg Pierce
Music: John Kander
Story: John, Kander, Greg Pierce
Director: Liesl Tommy
Set designer: Clint Ramos
Costume designer: Jacob A. Climer
Lighting designer: David Weiner
Sound designer: Peter Hylenski
Choreographer: Christopher Windom
Presented by the Vineyard Theatre