Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

The Johnny

America 20XX

Part of the
New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

The Johnny

Derek Krantz and the company
The latest musical answering questions no one has ever been dull enough to ask, The Johnny examines what happens to the obnoxious golden boy that existed only to give the underdeveloped underdog in 1980s teen films an obstacle to overcome. But this show by David L. Williams (book, lyrics, and direction) and David F. M. Vaughn (music) instead recalls high school in a more visceral and immediate way: It's endless, humiliating, and too often without a discernible point.

Familiar tropes of the embarrassment-entertainment genre are supposed to provide the fuel for this tale of self-redemption, which follows jock extraordinaire Johnny (Derek Krantz) on a downward spiral after he (gasp) comes in second in the school racquetball championships. But Williams goes too far in parodying the perfectionist parents (Susanne Nelson, Cody Andrus), the doting best friend (Joshua Brandenburg), the new girl in town (Jennifer Margulis), the coach on the outs (Joel Abels), and so on, taking them to such extremes that they're extremely unlikeable from start to finish.

Worse, this extends to Johnny, too - he's such a thoroughbred jerk even well into his transformation that you start hoping he'll get everything that's coming to him. Krantz's gratingly smarmy performance allows no undertones of humanity to seep into the character, which instead helps him confirm the very stereotypes the writers are supposedly trying to upend.

Ideally, the score would equalize things, but the songs only clarify that there's no reason for this story to be a musical. Inspirational numbers and montage-like musical scenes (often underscored with heavy bass lines) effectively recall cheesy ‘80s soundtracks, but offer nothing else new to justify being sung onstage. So bereft are the writers of ideas that they even begin looting other genres: Johnny's big second-act comeback culminates in a pair of ramshackle tap specialties (derivatively choreographed by Grady McLeod Bowman) better suited to 1940s Broadway flops than 1980s Hollywood parody.

Not that the dialogue is much better. What seems like dozens of gay jokes, stupidity-infused personal revelations ("Ballet really did kill my father!"), and an oh-so-outré semi-twist ending are all that punctuate the listless and humorless spoken scenes that accumulate like twisted metal in a 21-car pileup. While some performers have promise - Jean McCormick is unaccountably realistic as a bartender with a secret, and Margulis brings a lovely shyness to her fish-out-of-water character - the overacting and overwriting makes The Johnny as broad and unfriendly as the San Fernando Valley. If you're looking for real people or real entertainment here, you'd have much better luck asking out a cheerleader.

Run Time: 2 hours
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC

America 20XX

There's something empowering about finally getting the right to vote. It sets off chain reactions in young people's heads about activism, demonstration, and changing the world. What not all newly registered young adults realize, however, is that the ideas they're considering for the first time are seldom actually new - not that that's enough to stop them from spouting their opinions to anyone who will listen. But does that need to be done onstage?

That Cyriaque Lamar's America 20XX freely admits its juvenile nature isn't alone enough to make this production of the Rutgers University sketch-comedy troupe Wacky Hijinks in any way trenchant. Nor are vague invocations of Alexis de Tocqueville or meta-acknowledgement of the metaphors on which the entire tiring story is based: The Power Patriots - consisting of the ever-visionary Constitution (Jon Bershad), the bipolar Red State/Blue State (Gregory Bing), and the half-man-half-avian Super Eagle (Lamar) - must fight the evil iDol computer system that's uploading Americans into its matrix of...

Oh, who cares. Ostensibly a parable about social and political malaise in a technologically aware world, the show reeks of adolescent desperation, in its individual plot points (oh no, a gay supervillain is escaping in this flashback!), its presentation (oh no, the cardboard-box monster is threatening the cardboard-box city!), its labored sense of humor (oh no, the... King of the Mummies is rising from the dead to give a political lecture?), and the posing, prancing, and declaiming that pass for acting. But lacking the daring and invention of the current king of this genre, the TV series South Park, America 20XX isn't inspiring - just embarrassing.

Granted, Wacky Hijinks isn't aiming for depth. One character explains this is because doing so guarantees the show will automatically date itself, so ham-fisted symbolism is the preferred way to go. What no one involved has yet learned, though, is that symbolism that alienates the audience causes the show to wither in minutes rather than in months or years. Smart audiences won't even appreciate the ironic intent of the banner on the set's rear wall that reads "WELCOME TO THE APOCALPYSE!" - for them, being loosely lectured to by college students who are less original than they think will be as bad as America 20XX can get.

Run Time: 70 minutes
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York International Fringe Festival - FringeNYC

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