Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - May 6, 2008
Glory Days Music & lyrics by Nick Blaemire. Book by James Gardiner. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Scenic design by Jim Kronzer. Costume design by Sasha Ludwig-Siegel. Lighting design by Mark Lanks. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Musical Director Ethan Popp. Vocal arrangements by Nick Blaemire & Jesse Vargas. Music supervision, arrangements & orchestrations by Jesse Vargas. Cast: Steven Booth, Andrew C. Call, Adam Halpin, Jesse JP Johnson.
But if this show is an almost complete failure, it's not a travesty you can take perverse pleasure in watching implode. That it's so full of promise and so empty of everything else isn't just the breaks - it's heartbreaking. This is not just because authors Nick Blaemire (music and lyrics) and James Gardiner (book) are, respectively, 23 and 24 years old, but because none of this ever had to happen.
Blaemire (who's also currently performing in the ensemble of Cry-Baby) and Gardiner started work on Glory Days while still in high school themselves, and landed under the stewardship of Eric Schaeffer, artistic director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. He saw enough value in their score and story, about four college freshmen who reunite at the high school where they met and bonded, to give the show a full production at Signature this past January. The enthusiasm and lucky-star happenstance that then interfered to move the production to Circle in the Square is enough to inspire any lover of musical theatre, especially one who cherishes fresh, new voices, to pray this show would work out.
Divine intervention, alas, has not struck. Though aiming for innocent fun with a dollop of impending-adult reality, Glory Days seldom delivers more than listlessness, ultimately feeling like the theatrical equivalent of an undeclared major. Its overall dramatic indifference doesn't reflect its subjects as much as it does Blaemire and Gardiner's inexperience at constructing a musical from scratch - in fairness, a task that's confounded top professionals two or three times their ages. So save your heaviest scorn for Schaeffer, who's been in the business longer than either writer has been alive and should have realized and admitted their show wasn't ready for the big leagues.
At least Blaemire and Gardiner will be best positioned to profit from their mistakes and those of the people who have prematurely led them to Broadway. They display some latent talent, and all this will only have been a waste if they don't cultivate those gifts and develop the storytelling skills necessary to connect with audiences on more than the superficial level they do here.
Blaemire's songs are musically attractive, in the basic Rent mold (and his vocal arrangements, devised with Jesse Vargas, are outstanding by any reckoning), but their lyrics tread through garden-variety adolescent philosophizing that makes room for quarreling, rumor-mongering, and good-natured taunting, but rarely introspection. The best numbers embrace their limitations: In "The Good Old Glory Type Days," the four take a lively look back at events they once considered traumatizing; "Open Road" is a pleasant ballad for Jack about the road trip that altered the pathways of his life.
Practically everything else is a writhing mass of convoluted pandering. Scenes and songs about sex, school, and success are painfully labored, a capitulation to the show's target demographic rather than a representation of it. Subplots about Will's ruinous diary and Jack's evolving perspective and the rifts it causes are fodder for second-tier After School Specials. Schaeffer's staging meanders around Jim Kronzer's ugly stadium set beneath Mark Lanks's unforgiving (and unimaginative) lights. And while all four actors are highly likeable, only Call's and Johnson's portrayals ever rise above generic angst, and then only intermittently.
Occasionally, however, a hint of otherwise untapped depth leaks through, suggesting legitimate insight might be only a draft or two away. Gardiner glances on what resonates as the central theme: why the boys' world is suddenly changing after staying essentially the same for 18 years. And though they don't appear until very late, a few of Blaemire's lyrics demonstrate how well he recognizes some of the most perplexing questions about growing up: "When am I grown up and when am I still immature? / Will I ever be more than just unsure? / And when am I a man? / And when I am will I still just be doing the best that I can?"
Like Will, Blaemire and Gardiner are trying to put into words feelings and fears they're not yet equipped to express. That goal is worthy of their exploration, but not yet a Broadway production - maybe after making the rounds at the BMI Workshop. And both young men would be well served by spending a few more years joyriding through an even more valuable institution: life. After they do, it wouldn't be surprising if they discover their own glory days - and their most glorious shows - are before, not behind, them.