The New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011
Drew Gasparini may make his full-time career as a pop singer and songwriter, but judging by his entry in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, it’s clear he can branch out any time he chooses. Crazy, Just Like Me, for which Gasparini wrote the score and collaborated on the book with Louis Sacco, is a bubbly and endearing slice of contemporary life that jumps to the head of line of works that explore the murky malaise of mid-to-late-20s Americans. If bright, bouncy story songs that firmly belong in the same catalog as those by writers Adam Gwon (Ordinary Days), Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham (I Love You Because), and Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown) appeal to you, you have until Wednesday to get to the TBG Theater to see a bewitching showcase of this heretofore unfamiliar–to–New York talent.
Even if such compositions aren’t your cup of espresso, you may want to consider a visit anyway. Unlike so many musicals of this style, here the book has in no way been given short shrift. It deftly charts the dueling quarter-life crises of lifelong friends and roommates Mike and Simon (Andrew Kober and Andy Mientus) as the former contemplates marriage to his girlfriend, Lauren (Lexie Papedo), and the latter begins sessions with a feel-good hippy psychotherapist (Sacco) to learn why everything about life seems to confound and defeat him. Gasparini and Sacco largely overcome their setup’s relative triteness to fashion deep and rewarding relationships between Mike and Simon, Mike and Lauren, and Lauren and her gay best friend Stacey (Mike Russo), with whom she sets up Simon in the misunderstanding that ignites the rocket-speed plot.
With director Stephen Agosto’s precision-cut pacing and a cast that brings a shining optimism and unfettered comic timing to a show that demands that light a touch, even when things get dark they never get shadowy. Gasparini maintains just the right tone in his score, throughout, as well. The title song handsomely sets up how modern life is driving everyone bonkers, Simon’s anxiety and energy are rendered with delightful abandon in “For the Life of Me” and “A Little Bit,” the three romantic leads explore their constantly shifting affections with heart-touching power in “Look at Me Now,” and even minor numbers like Stacey’s “Straight Girl Problems” and Mike’s searching “Fell in Love With Crazy” register as thoughtful character writing. The cast’s shining optimism and unfettered comic timing couldn’t be better, with Papedo a particularly arresting find: She is intensely likeable and possesses a warmly connected, rose-toned belt completely free of the steely edges that characterize so many of today’s top theatre singers.
Enjoyable as Crazy, Just Like Me is from beginning to end, it still could use some additional attention to fine detail. It suffers from a Lady in the Dark problem, with Simon’s counseling achieving elaborate results too instantaneously to be fully convincing. Certain aspects of the plot don’t add up: Would Mike really date Lauren for 18 months and yet never meet someone as important to her as Stacey? The biggest issue is an elemental one of balance: The score and the book are both good, but often good independently of each other. The richly symbiotic give and take that defines the best musicals is never quite here; you could strip out the songs and still have a rollicking comedy hit, which is not a good sign. Gasparini has been working on the show since 2007, and it’s been produced in various places since 2009, so hopefully he’s still open to tweaks.
His show does not need many, however. Crazy, Just Like Me is adept exploration of the necessity of challenging expectations and thinking about yourself and others in new ways, and is always willing to practice what it preaches — and deliver a lot of fun and a few surprises along the way. Chances are that this show’s life won’t end after NYMF, but will in fact begin in earnest. It deserves it; it’s not every day you hear this original and engaging a voice, and you’d be crazy to pass up this opportunity to do so.
Crazy, Just Like Me