Not that it ever has. Like many NYMF projects, it’s been long-aborning, appearing here and there over the last couple of decades but, for some reason, never quite finding its feet. But if this production, which has been directed by Igor Goldin and features a stellar cast, is any indication, it won’t be stepping into the shadows anytime soon. Though an adaptation of Frank D. Gilroy’s 1985 film of the same name, its energy and polish make it stand out as a truly distinctive work both of the NYMF and general-market varieties.
What makes it work — well, one of the things — is that it never loses focus on the people at its center. Each of the quintet of middle-age, dissatisfied, and mostly married men, who meet every Wednesday night for impromptu jazz performance parties, are intricately defined: the used car salesman and unofficial leader, Marty (Larry Cahn); the henpecked Jack (Kevin Pariseau); the single loser, Arthur (Nick Gaswirth); the easygoing dreamer, Gil (Michael Minarik); and the devoted Aaron (Steve Routman). So when they receive what is quite obviously the chance of their lifetimes, to play for two weeks at a Catskills resort, the actions and reactions that follow propel them into exactly the right decisive, but terrifying, new directions.
They meet plenty of intriguing new people along the way, from Marshall (Doug Eskew), the professional bassist who steps in when group member Georgie bows out due to health concerns, to oily resort manager Abe Mitgang (Stephen Berger), to two lovely and searching resort employees in Donna and Lucy (Dee Roscioli and Kate Fahrner), and a washed-up TV star looking to jumpstart her big comeback (Donna Vivino). And each of the performers plays these roles with sweeping comic know-how, but also emotional aplomb that roots them and their actions in reality.
But it’s the guys in the band that matter most, and The Gig as a whole is structured to ensure that they all learn something as contact with these “newcomers” and the evolving ideas around them becomes unavoidable. And that’s where the musical really comes into its own, exploring through song and surprisingly sensitive scenes why this outing is so important even though, in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably really not. And by the end, when events have made their deepest impacts on everyone, the men finally turn their eyes inward to achieve the growth — and catharsis — that’s as important for us as it is to them.
Not a false note is struck in their performances, and the actors’ interplay is so strong that to dwell on any one might risk diminishing the others, which would be truly unfair. But as an anchoring presence, Cahn is especially superb, and finds an ingratiating manner and delivery that bring you as much into the guys’ fantasy just as completely as they are. And he guides the narrative with no less a sure hand than Goldin, who’s put together a thoroughly fluid and stripped-down-but-sumptuous rendering of the men’s story. (There are no sets to speak of, and all the instruments are mimed — you miss neither.)
With a stunning score (impeccably orchestrated by Michael Gibson) that incorporates what ought to become new jazz standards with carefully considered numbers investigating the characters’ inner beings, and includes one of the very best opening numbers ever to be heard at NYMF (and which you won’t be able to get out of your head for days, assuming you even want to), as music or theatre The Gig is about as flawless as we get these days. Assuming Cohen is still working on the show, he’d be well to make another pass at the second act to things from slowly but steadily losing steam, as they currently do, and rethinking the final number, which is the only time the whole evening that feelings and notes do not seem to be in absolute sync.
That, however, can’t derail the rest of this wonderful show any more than Marty, Jack, Aaron, Gil, and Arthur’s own fanciful hopes and aspirations can stifle their playing. Yes, The Gig is more than successful at reminding us of how crucial it is to chase what matters most to us, regardless of the obstacles put in our way. But, as with the best shows in the canon, you’ll be too busy having fun to absorb the extra layers of meaning until after you’re floated out of the theater, with cool folks still occupying your mind and hot jazz still ringing in your ears.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival 2014