The best thing about "Glory Days" is that it lasts 90 minutes. But those 90 (intermissionless) minutes seem longer than all of "Tristan and Isolde" without Wagner.
This self-indulgent hymn to the problems of early post-adolescence (male gender variety) opened last night, just in time to be eligible for this year's Tony Awards.
It probably could have marinated another decade or so.
In Broadway's own glory days, there was a curious entity known as a "vanity production," put on either by an ambitious playwright or the sugar daddy (or real daddy) of an ambitious actor or actress.
The show would run a week or so with little collateral damage apart from the financial loss of a few misguided ticket buyers. Nowadays, the cost of putting on a Broadway show has made the vanity production virtually extinct.
But along comes "Glory Days," presumably not even a vanity production, coming as it does from a well-regarded theater in Arlington, Va., and written by two 23-year-olds (one just turned 24).
The book is by James Gardiner, and the music and lyrics are by Nick Blaemire, whose Playbill bio reads, "Can't believe this is happening. Not one bit."
Well, neither can we.
The music is difficult to describe and utterly unmemorable (it certainly has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen's hit of the same name), and the lyrics are jejune. The story is of four friends who, a year after their high school graduation, meet again in the bleachers of their old football field.
The dramatic tension comes first from whether these former buddies will rig the sprinkler system to humiliate the hated football jocks playing a charity game the next day.
More drama emerges when one (or is it two?) of the eroding quartet comes out of the closet. This seems to be a big deal, even a big surprise.
The performances by Steven Booth, Andrew C. Call, Adam Halpin and Jesse JP Johnson are high-spirited and, for the first five minutes, engaging.
But it wasn't long before I found myself wishing that they would turn on the sprinklers and let us go home to read a good book.
The new musical “Glory Days” may be the youngest-feeling show about being young ever to land on Broadway. Granted, this callow portrait of four friends on the cusp of manhood, which opened on Tuesday night at the Circle in the Square Theater, doesn’t have the raging hormonal current or electrified anguish that made teenage cult favorites out of “Spring Awakening,” “Rent” and, four long decades ago, “Hair.”
“Glory Days,” the maiden effort of Nick Blaemire (songs) and James Gardiner (book), is less about dangerous rebellion than about mild-mannered confusion. And it’s confusion as experienced not by sexually charged bohemians but by nice, nerdy middle-class kids struggling to understand why people grow apart as they grow up.
Directed by Eric Schaeffer, the show and its characters are gawky, sincere, tentative, self-contradictory and given to home truths that are expounded on as if they were discoveries of new planets. This means that the production manages to seem fresh and seriously stale at the same time.
Created by men in their early 20s (Mr. Blaemire is 23; Mr. Gardiner turned 24 last month) who began collaborating on it several years ago, “Glory Days” is the musical equivalent of a story for an introductory college fiction class, prompted by the directive “Write about what you know.” It belongs to a breed of works likely to evoke tears of pride and nods of recognition among friends and relatives of the writers. Average theatergoers will probably feel less indulgent.
First produced at the Signature Theater Company in Arlington, Va. (where Mr. Schaeffer is artistic director), “Glory Days” reunites four once-close-knit pals a year after their graduation from a high school where they were all social outcasts. There are Will (Steven Booth), sensitive and literary; Andy (Andrew C. Call), sensitive and stupid; Skip (Adam Halpin), sensitive and cynical; and Jack (Jessie J P Johnson), sensitive and secretive.
Now, having tasted college, they meet on the bleachers of the high school football field. (I presume you can imagine what Jim Kronzer’s simple, serviceable set looks like.) The choice of location is symbolic, since it was failing to make the football team that bonded them as pariahs years earlier. Will, who describes himself as the glue of the group, has devised a prank to humiliate key members of the popular crowd that spurned them.
For a while it looks as if “Glory Days” might turn into a singing version of “Revenge of the Nerds” or another of those assembly-line movies in which teenage losers get a bit of their own back. Certainly the show has some of the staples of that genre: fraternal teasing and roughhousing, idle boasts of sexual conquest, jokes about masturbation and the consumption of cheap beer.
But Mr. Blaemire and Mr. Gardiner are more interested in probing questions of identities in flux and the strength of friendships based on being outcasts together. So there are sweet-sounding, wandering pop ballads steeped in premature nostalgia (from Will); earnest personal confession (from Jack); resentful anger (via Andy); and cool disgust (from Skip, who sings about “a new world order: generation apathy”).
The actors are mercifully understated. They avoid being excessively cute or melodramatic. Unfortunately, they also avoid creating individually shaped personalities — I mean, as defined by more than bulging biceps or long hair — that register big onstage.
This may be appropriate for characters who have yet to figure out who they really are. But such blurriness rarely makes compelling theater. And the music captures the particular, poignant bond among these young men only in a couple of charming, wistful, close-harmony numbers. (Mr. Blaemire and Jesse Vargas did the vocal arrangements.)
It’s been a season of thinking small for the Broadway musical. Two front-runners for the Tony, “In the Heights” and “Passing Strange,” are also intimate, personal shows imported from non-Broadway houses. I can see why the producers of “Glory Days” might have thought this was an auspicious moment for a big-time New York transfer.
Ultimately, though, they have done this little, hopeful show no favors by dragging it into a spotlight that invites close and unforgiving inspection. I do find it heartening that a pair of enthusiastic and gifted young artists have fallen in love with that beleaguered form, the musical, as a means of self-expression.
The lyrics of Will’s concluding song is a humble expression of both the show’s limits and the possibility of something more substantial to come. He wants, he says, to tell a story that “can find a way to say/‘This is only who I am today’/And there’s so much more to see.”
An irritating offshoot of the digital revolution is that it's democratized the filmmaking process, opening the floodgates for kids straight out of school with no life experience and no stories to tell to start making navel-gazing movies. Beyond the small-time local level or the ubiquitous solo show, theater is mostly spared that indignity because it costs more, requires more collaborators and demands an audience. But occasionally, one such immature self-indulgence slips through, such as "Glory Days," which slipped all the way through to Broadway.
Penned by novice composer-lyricist Nick Blaemire and book writer James Gardiner, both in their early 20s, this earnest but insipid pop musical concerns four high school buddies reunited what seems like minutes after graduation to discover that the bonds of their friendship have begun to dissolve. It's the kind of story that, with better writing, might have made a poignant single-episode arc on "Freaks and Geeks," but even then requiring a second-tier supporting thread.
Given a modest production at Virginia's Signature Theater earlier this year, the show received encouraging reviews from D.C. critics, but nobody appeared to be saying this larva was ready for mainstream metamorphosis. The producers have done an extreme disservice to the inexperienced creative team by shoving them into the spotlight with what's likely to be a commercial embarrassment.
While it doesn't have much spark, the show will probably hold some charm for anyone still immersed in the adolescent experience and could find admirers in youth theater or school productions. But high-stakes Broadway is a cruel stepping-stone.
Following "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" into the Circle in the Square was another bad idea. Aside from passing similarities in Blaemire's tunes to the music of William Finn, "Glory Days" also purports to be about the awkward outsiders and unathletic kids shut out of the popular cliques. While "Spelling Bee" offered tender insights into that stigmatized condition and the means to survive it, this show barely skims the surface.
In addition to Finn, Blaemire and Gardiner appear heavily influenced by Jonathan Larson, down to the use of a central narrator much like filmmaker Mark in "Rent." "I am the glue that holds us together/Observer, inventor and sole documenter," sings aspiring writer Will (Steven Booth) about the friends who are the subject of his story.
Will is the sensitive guy, Skip (Adam Halpin) is the military brat who rebelled into mellowness, Andy (Andrew C. Hall) is the obnoxious failed jock, and Jack (Jesse JP Johnson) is the quiet, undersized bully magnet. No prizes for guessing which one will be coming out one or two songs from now. Or which one will take the news badly.
The slender conflict stems mainly from the quest to locate a key to the sprinkler system, allowing the guys to set it off during the first annual alumni football game and get revenge on the players who made their lives hell in high school. And then there's Jack's revelation in "Open Road," a disclosure that sends waves of trauma through the group. But the whimpering drama is neither satisfyingly explored nor resolved.
Jack's song is one of the better efforts among Blaemire's generic, talky numbers, largely because something has actually happened to him since school that's worth singing about. Elsewhere, the awkwardly inarticulate lyrics just string together platitudes about formative memories, bonding experiences, feeling at home and fearing change, but it's nostalgia without the wisdom of hindsight.
The songs with a message to impart are worse, however, notably "Other Human Beings," in which Jack responds to a harsh slur: "There are certain things/You never do to other human beings/That no one needs to learn/Cuz it's part of who we are." Huh?
Anonymously directed by Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer, the show is staged on a minimal set of bleachers backed by a wall of football field lights.
"Glory Days" attempts to mythologize high school into a mystical place and a time of innocent, uncomplicated pleasures for four kids now standing nervously on the cusp of adulthood -- which might have worked if a couple of Breakfast Clubbers, Romy and Michelle or even those adorable eunuchs of "High School Musical" had been around to provide depth, humor or fun. But while the interchangeable cast members are affable, not untalented performers, they are out of their depth trying to stamp a personality on this one-dimensional material.