Alliance, Nebraska, Summer 1993Will (Ryder Bach) is thrilled to be done with high school, but isn't too sure what to do with the next part of his life. He has a secret crush on jock Mike (Curt Hansen), but Will isn't out of the closet yet and he figures nothing will ever happen. He's surprised, then, to receive a mix tape of Matthew Sweet songs one day from Mike, and later an invitation to hang out at the drive-in together, watching a bad anime film. As the summer passes, the two bond over music as they slowly, unexpectedly fall in love with each other.
Bach is particularly adept at delineating the difference between Will's deliberately calm exterior as he tries to convince Mike that he's cool and his giddy interior where he exults that his life is finally beginning. He's expert with a deadpan line, and his duet with Hansen, "Your Sweet Voice" is a gorgeous highlight. Hansen, who resembles a Risky Business-era Tom Cruise, is terrific as Mike, funny and moving in equal measure. His singing voice approximates Sweet's range, and his delivery of "We're the Same" is a thing of delicate beauty.
Director Les Waters does nice work contrasting the difficulty of the two young men talking honestly to each other versus the effortless release of the music they love. Julie Wolf's music direction is equally effective with ballads and rockers, and she has the benefit of a kick-ass band that turns the Douglas into a happy concert crowd, especially with the irresistible title number.
Todd Almond's book brilliantly conveys the awkwardness of teenagers trying to connect despite the obstacles of unsure sexual orientation and looming life changes, every "um" and "uh" as deliberately placed and crucial as though in an early Mamet play. If Sweet's album didn't seem to specifically be about two young men falling for each other, it doesn't matterthis is a story of people inspired by his music, and one wonderful thing about music is that it includes everyone.
Girlfriend is an amazing balancing act of fragile emotions and energetic rocka bubble floating blissfully untouched among a mosh pita sweet love story surrounded by delicious music. Don't miss it.
Girlfriend plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through August 9, 2015. Tickets and info are available at CenterTheatreGroup.org.
Center Theatre Group presents The Actors Theatre of Louisville production of Girlfriend. Book by Todd Almond. Music and Lyrics by Matthew Sweet. Directed by Les Waters. Music Direction by Julie Wolf. Lighting Designer, Ben Stanton; Scenic and Costume Designer, David Zinn; Choreographer, Joe Goode; Sound Designer, Jake Rodriguez; Production Stage Manager, Paul Mills Holmes.
- Terry Morgan