Chicago Theatre Review
Moving On…So What?
Glory Days – Refuge Theatre Project
Four best friends from high school reunite on an empty football field a year after they’ve gone on to the colleges of their choice. Will, the musical’s perceptive narrator, and Andy, the bigmouth grandstander of the group, have become college roommates. The more mellow and openminded Skip is attending a prestigious Ivy League school while soft-spoken Jack has decided to study at yet another, unnamed university. Will reveals that, not only is it unbelievably awesome to get together with his three friends once more, but he has a secret reason for meeting on the stadium bleachers, so late at night. Will has planned a prank to revenge all the pain and embarrassment inflicted by football jocks who made their high school years so miserable. Having secured keys to the control box, Will plans to reset the timer on the sprinkler system so it’ll come on during the next big game, soaking their rivals to the skin. What Will doesn’t anticipate are the secrets and admissions that his buddies will reveal that night.
This 90-minute one-act, with a book by James Gardiner and music and lyrics by his friend Nick Blaemire, premiered in 2008 at Virginia’s Signature Theatre. Later that year it opened at Broadway’s Circle in the Square. After 17 previews, it had the distinction of closing the same night it opened, even though this slight musical might’ve actually succeeded Off Broadway at a smaller venue. And although it didn’t receive rave reviews, Refuge Theatre Project decided it would be a great choice for their second offering, having opened earlier this year with another modest musical, “Next Thing You Know.” Ross Egan and Morgan Briggs founded this company with the goal of “producing contemporary musical theatre that is free from anything extra…telling stories about people dealing with life that is meaningful and fun…shows for real people.” Based upon these two productions, it would appear that this young company is primarily dedicated to producing small-scale musicals that tell stories about their own generation, the Millennials.
Matt Dominguez has chosen to bring the audience into the story by directing his production alley style. Theatergoers are seated on either side of the playing field, while an abbreviated set of bleachers, used to create acting levels, is positioned at one end of the room. Musical Director, David Pollack, and his talented musical combo are nestled in the shadows of the other end. The young cast are all likable, age-appropriate skilled actor/singers. They include the charismatic Brad Atkinson as Will, the group’s enthusiastic leader; Roy Brown as Andy, Will’s obnoxious, braggart of a roomie; the handsome Billy Rude as the kinder, more levelheaded friend, Skip; and dashing Hunter Lindner as quiet, sensitive Jack.
This pleasant little show doesn’t really break any new ground. Its message about how teenagers change over the course of time, ultimately acknowledging their differences and eventually growing apart and moving on, is familiar territory. Blaemire’s pop-rock score is serviceable, but offers few standout moments. One exception is Jack’s soulful “Open Road,” which serves as a confessional and his coming out story. A few ensemble numbers, such as “Are You Ready?,” “Right Here” and “The Good Old Glory Type Days,” sung by the entire cast, are pleasantly tuneful and offer some welcomed harmony. Skip sums up the age group’s collective attitude in his “Generation Apathy.”And while we more-or-less know where Andy and Skip stand relative to Jack’s admission, it’s not clear in which direction Will is headed. He manages to stir up the audience, however, with his final, cathartic number, “My Next Story.”
Despite a promising cast, nicely directed and supported by first rate musicians, this musical just isn’t that unique or exceptional. It’s honest and sincere, which is its strength, but it often feels repetitious too familiar. After Jack’s story is told, his friends’ reactions aren’t really that surprising. Ultimately, most audience members will simply ask themselves, “So what?” This company does their best with the material they’ve chosen, and their mission is admirable. However, Refuge Theatre needs to find and produce shows that tell a stories about exciting characters for whom the stakes are higher.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented August 27-September 20 by the Refuge Theatre Project at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.refugetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.