By Joseph Cervelli
Any show with the name John Kander attached to it would make all loyal theatergoers rush to purchase a ticket immediately. Composer Kander along with his brilliant lyricist Fred Ebb who sadly died a number of years ago were responsible for such memorable scores to “Chicago,” “Zorba” and “Cabaret” among others.
It is unfortunate to announce that Kander’s music is the weakest link in the new musical “Kid Victory” at the Vineyard Theater. While the score of any show is there to propel the story along, here it actually pulls down the very strong book to “Victory” which is written by Greg Pierce who also wrote the lyrics. It is based on a story by both men.
The musical begins with a very disturbing scene showing a young man Luke (an exceptionally fine Brandon Flynn) chained to handcuffs in the background with the local townspeople (action takes place in a small Kansas town) singing the spiritual “Lord, Carry Me Home.” It makes for a very interesting juxtaposition. You wonder if it is their faith that helped the release of this kidnapped fellow kept prisoner in the basement of a pedophile for several months. Or did their religious beliefs which are play a big part in their everyday lives have nothing at all to do with it. It is worth debating and Pierce does a excellent job of bringing this up along with dissecting the lead characters including the kidnapper, Michael, played with a slyly inviting demeanor by a superb Jeffrey Denman. He captures the kind of bilious charm a pedophile trying to lure his unsuspecting victim would possess.
Luke is a shy, lonely, gay young man who meets Michael on an online (the show’s title refers to his online name) boating race and the two become friends. Michael easily maneuvers this introverted teen into meeting where he entices him with sailing various boats he supposedly has.. Their eventual meeting leads to disastrous consequences for Luke.
There is some degree of Stockholm Syndrome when you later find out that Luke did escape but decided to return to Michael. For him the sexual encounters with the older man were what he most likely considered to be love and an understanding of his needs.
His parents very well played by two stalwart actors Karen Ziemba and Daniel Jenkins are at their wit’s end in how to deal with Luke who cannot seem to adjust to his return home. You gather throughout that while they are warm and loving parents their moral beliefs would not jell well with his sexual predilections. While there is no doubt how much they love him it is difficult for them to understand why he will not return to school or resume a relationship with his girlfriend. He prefers spending his time working for free at with the bohemian Emily (a very good Dee Roscioli) who runs a shop making wonderfully creative bird cages. Emily who is a lesbian has her own problems with her daughter Mara (Laura Darrell). Luke and Emily do have a meaningful duet “People Like Us” which fits into the storyline about two misfits whose lifestyles hardly blends into the mores of their conservative town.
So much of Kander’s music is tuneless except for a zippy though ill conceived tap dancing number by Andrew (Blake Zolfo) who meets Luke in a wooded area for a sexual encounter. And although Pierce’s lyrics fare better even they add little to the storyline.
It is not that the show should have played without music for a prime example is the substantial book and beautiful score to the current “Dear Evan Hansen.” Everything in that very serious show blends magically.
Also, I kept wondering why Luke was not given a musical solo which would have added to knowing more about his character. And the last scene has Luke and his father in a mimed conversation which is disappointing when even partial dialogue between both of them would have been so important.
Despite the well crafted performances and Liesl Tommy’s sympathetic direction, the show stumbles at almost every juncture once the musical numbers stalls the storyline.
Tickets are available at the Vineyard Theater 108 West 15th Street or by calling 212.353.0303. Limited engagement ends March 19.
PHOTO CREDIT: CAROL ROSEGG