Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Band Geeks! is the latest in a long history of new musicals which The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio, has had a hand in developing. The show debuted in 2010, but it will be the version finalized after this current production which will be licensed. The show is a look at life as a member of a high school marching band, with the many ups and downs presented to its participants, often not the most popular kids in school. Strong performances and a solid production team assist in making this show an enjoyable and amiable.
Band Geeks! introduces a colorful yet believable group of Midwestern teens striving to find their place in the battlefield of high school in the late 1990s. As members of the tiny Cuyahoga (Ohio) High School Beavers band, they seek acceptance, romance, pride, and a sense of accomplishment while trying to overcome bullying, budget cuts, and normal teen insecurities.
The book by Tommy Newman and Gordon Greenberg presents accurately drawn characters and situations which any past or present marching band member will instantly recognize. There is sufficient humor, nostalgia and conflict, and the show is likely to appeal to real world band geeks in a way that the television show "Glee" connects with show choir alums. The characters are likeable and we want to root for them. However, the story lacks a certain level of spark or intensity which would turn it from being a good show into a great musical. It's been said that the best shows are either about big characters or big situations, and Band Geeks! is neither. It's about everyday kids in everyday situations. As easy as it is to relate to them and their plight, it isn't one for captivating theatergoing. The show picks up a more dramatic pace in the second act, but that portion also becomes quite episodic and choppy due to several very short non-musical scenes.
The score by Gaby Alter, Mark Allen and Tommy Newman is likewise a bit hit or miss. In act one, there are a couple of standout songs musically ("Keep the Beat," "Lost in the Brass"), but for the most part the lyrics are stronger than the music and there are a few duds on hand as well. After intermission, however, the songs become stronger, with "Get It Together," which does a great job of advancing the plot, "The Back of the Bus," and "Loser" being especially praiseworthy.
Director Greg Hellems does an excellent job of capturing the proper tone for the piece, and the blocking, transitions, and character presentation are spot on. His choreography is a mix of dance and precise marching band moves, and is blended well into the staging. Musical Director Scot Woolley skillfully leads a talented 6-piece orchestra, and has prepared the singers / onstage instrumentalists very well to execute the score.
Ten of the 12-member cast not only sing, act and dance, but also play instruments as band members (and all do quite well, some very well). They also do a wonderful job of capturing the stress, awkwardness and longings associated with adolescents. As Laura, CCM grad and Broadway vet Katie Klaus is sweetly endearing as an overachieving flute-player who is a dependable friend, but wants to do more than just hide in the background. Another Broadway veteran, Mykal Kilgore, is the lovable and optimistic leader of the band, a tuba player determined to make his senior year in band a success despite many obstacles. Both sing excellently and supply completely authentic takes as teenagers. In supporting roles, Zach Cossman (Jake) and Sarah Agar (Nicole) show off their considerable talents and turn in first rate performances. The entire cast provides committed portrayals and executes the show solidly.
The scenic design by Scott J. Kimmins evokes the high school and football field locales with nice touches throughout, and the handsome costumes by Janet G. Powell are character and time appropriate. The lighting by John Rensel is professional, but the sound, as supplied by John Findley, needs a better blend, with many lyrics getting trumped by the musicians or back-up vocals on occasion.
Band Geeks! is a fun, pleasant, and easy-to-relate-to musical, and The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton supplies a worthwhile production including an excellent cast. The musical continues at the Human Race Theatre Company through June 17, 2012. For performance and ticket information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org.-- Scott Cain