Review: Jarring Styles Defeat ‘Kid Victory’
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, March 15, 2017
Kid Victory is a real odd duck of a show. The subject matter itself is extremely challenging: a teenage boy falls prey to an online sexual predator and is held hostage for nearly a year. Now, musicals can be about just about anything or anyone: a lesbian who grows up in a funeral home and has to deal with her closeted gay father committing suicide; a barber who kills people while his accomplice who bakes the victims into meat pies; the man who founded the U.S. Treasury Department, etc.
But whatever the topic, writers need to give their musicals a reason to sing. Which is the fundamental problem with Kid Victory. The show is deeply unsettling, but strangely not because of the subject matter. Rather the uneasiness comes from the regrettable juxtaposition of heartrending drama and jaunty production numbers.
We meet Luke, the young man who has been abducted, shortly after he has left his captivity. Despite the horror of the young man’s experience, we’re subjected to a series of chirpy musical-comedy songs, that frankly come off as jaw-droppingly disrespectful to the boy and what he’s just been through. John Kander’s music is lovely, except that his style here is totally at odds with the tone of the show. Kid Victory might have worked with an edgier, more modern style of music, say from Tom Kitt or Jeanine Tesori, or even Pasek and Paul.
It seems as though director Liesl Tommy didn’t quite know what to do with the musical material, although she does a fine job with the dramatic scenes. She and the writers seem to have intended that the upbeat musical style would represent a sort of escape fantasy, and that Luke is imagining the songs in his head to mitigate the horror of what he’s been through. (Kander explored the theme of escape through fantasy far more effectively with Kiss of the Spider Woman.)
But here’s the fatal flaw in that reasoning: We have no reason to believe that Luke would escape with MGM-style musical numbers. Nothing in his character justifies this production concept. The only backstory we have on Luke is that he’s obsessed with sailboats and with an online sailing game, which is how he falls into the hands of his captor. Perhaps if he were obsessed with old movies and musical theater instead, the dichotomy between the score and the book might make sense.
Aside from the show’s jarring style, Pierce’s book features numerous elements that are introduced without development or resolution. There’s the detective who has questions about whether the boy was really abducted or whether he went willingly, but that never goes anywhere. There’s Luke’s mother’s obsession with her tiny figurines in a display case (dare I say, her glass menagerie?), which has a pinspot on it throughout the show, but whose relevance is forced and unconvincing. And Luke’s father at the end of the show suddenly develops these listening skills and emotional intuition, but there’s scant justification for this in how he’s developed as a character.
The cast of Kid Victory is impressive from end to end, including Tony-winner Karen Ziemba as Luke’s mother, Jeffrey Denman as the abductor, and the intense Brandon Flynn as Luke. (Special shoutout to a former student of mine, Blake Zolfo, making his Off-Broadway debut as Luke’s tap-dancing Grindr date.)
It’s wonderful to see the great John Kander continue to work even as he’s about to turn 90 years old. His music for Kid Victory shows that he still has a deft grasp on melody and a wonderful rhythmic buoyancy. Here’s hoping that his future projects will have a lot more tonal cohesion.
KID VICTORY, presented by the Vineyard Theater at 108 East 15th Street. Running through March 19, 2017. Music by John Kander, book and lyrics by Greg Pierce. Directed by Liesl Tommy. Cast: Ann Arvia, Joel Blum, Laura Darrell, Jeffry Denman, Brandon Flynn, Daniel Jenkins, David Garrison, Dee Roscioli, Karen Ziemba, and Blake Zolfo.
Cover: Brandon Flynn and Karen Ziemba in ‘Kid Victory;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.