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Off Broadway


R U Prime?

Part of the
New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Patron saints of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, please forgive Lucas Roy Lehman and his musical R U Prime? for committing the most serious sin of any rock musical aiming above all else for cool: ending up "cute." This show and its cast are so friendly and so harmless that for any of them to have to endure a frenzy of angered stage-smiting is so Biblically unfair that Job himself would weep.

Try as one might, it's simply not possible to hate a show as well-intended and as disconnected from dramatic reality as this one. It exists so fully in its own world that it presents you only two methods for dealing with it: buckling in for an all-out 90-minute stay, or vacationing somewhere else. You won't be punished for sticking around, but you also won't be exposed to anything you've haven't seen and heard before.

That begins with enterprising East Coast singer Tanya (Karen Weatherwax), who departs for Los Angeles and potential stardom on the American Idol-like competition R U Prime?. The car she "borrowed" from her ex-boyfriend breaks down en route, stranding her in Santa Cruz until she's rescued by repairman extraordinaire Mark (Kyle G. Bailey). It is, of course, love at first sight for him - and as soon as Tanya proves her vocal prowess, Mark's bandmate Will (Zander Meisner) and Will's sister Venus (Melissa Center) want in on her action.

It's not long before everyone horns in on everyone else's action, and the show begins its rambling road trip to the predictable. Flings and full-out relationships, between and within genders; drug and alcohol abuse and the associated angst; and the always-popular pursuit of art in defiance of the heart are among the orders of the day. Celibacy vows and the therapeutic joys of surfing even factor in for that full dose of Saturday-morning flavor.

But if the plot inspires eye-rolling of borderline lethal force, the other elements' inherent good nature provides strangely satisfying compensation. Director Maura Kelley's staging is charmingly informal, that of a guileless college-theatre lark. The characters, though hardly complex, are precisely drawn, and generally convincing as they struggle to find their proper directions (and, as they sing in the semi-title song, come into their prime) in an obstacle-strewn world. And the actors enact them in ways so affable, yet so affectless, that you can genuinely envision sharing beers and stories with any of them - no small achievement for people who spend so much time steeping in unrealized hope.

Lehman's songs mosey naturally from their easygoing worldviews, and are likeable if limited - they drip with camouflaged and inarticulate emotions, but stop short of drawing blood. They also cry out for more substantial instrumentation: Two acoustic guitars are enough to capture the rolling-roads laziness of the score's quartet of travelogue tunes, but not the searingly sentimental rehab-montage sequence "Junior," Tanya's power-tinged audition anthem "Sunrise This Morning," or any of the dozen or so ballads or seduction numbers that round out the songstack.

The guitars and lack of amplification do force your attention onto the lyrics, and into the cramped rooms and beds in which the characters wile away their hours. For the most part, Lehman and the company deliver when you arrive, but never with anything more than a basic emotional bang. The characters, like R U Prime? itself, are laid back and comfortable with themselves, but more content presenting a picture of percolating pain than guiding you into faded-postcard world their earnestness makes so attractive.

Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC