Review: In ‘The Mad Ones’ the Going Is Good, Not Great
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, December 4, 2017
A few years ago, still in the throes of my Next to Normal obsession, when I was staying up way too late watching every crappy phone-filmed performance of every member of the show’s cast singing in clubs, cafes, even their high school production of Fiddler, I stumbled across a video of Aaron Tveit singing “Run Away With Me” at the Zipper Theater. The song, which I instantly fell in love with (Aaron might have had something to do with it), was from a show I’d never heard of called The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.
A new obsession! I listened to the many other versions of the song populating the internet. Jeremy Jordon does a neat cover, as does Grant Gustin, and Michael Arden’s is a heartbreaker. Loving the song led me to the team that created it: Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Their Samantha Brown show has been kicking around for a while. There was a production at the Goodspeed, and somewhere along the way, it had a name change to The Mad Ones (a quote from Jack Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones…”). And it has now arrived in New York, in a Prospect Theater Company production at 59E59 Theaters.
The takeaway: I don’t love the whole enchilada as much as I adore that one, beautiful, piercing song. But I like it a whole darn lot.
It’s a (possibly too) simple set-up. Sam has just graduated from high school, a high-strung valedictorian with an over-achieving statistics professor single mom. She is bound for an ivy league college, just as mom planned. Or is she? Her best friend Kelly, the wild-child yin to Sam’s buttoned-up yang, wants her to throw away the map and hit the road. Her sweet and adorably dim boyfriend wants her to, you know, “Run Away With Me.” Her mom is determined that she head for that college and now. But Sam sits in the driveway, car keys in hand, with a serious case of stuck.
The entire show is set up as a flashback while Sam sits and has her coming-of-age moment, and it works, for the most part. The characters are a bit thin; the story is as well. The music is lovely, and the talented cast does a great job by it. And my beloved “Run Away With Me”? As performed by the talented Jay Armstrong Johnson (subbing for cast regular Ben Fankhauser, who is on doctor-ordered vocal rest), it was a showstopper. After seeing Johnson’s brilliant Candide in the City Opera production earlier this year and now this, he can run away with me any old time. (Sorry, Aaron!)
The rest of the cast is impressive: Leah Hocking as Sam’s mom Beverly, Emma Hunton as best friend Kelly, and Krystina Alabado as Sam each have songs in which they shine. If the stakes aren’t that high (Sam really only wants to take a gap year, after all), the tuneful songs and gleaming performances more than make up for it. Perhaps with a little tune-up in the book department, The Mad Ones could really…run away with you.
The Mad Ones presented by the Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 Theaters through December 17, 2017. Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Written by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Directed by Stephen Brackett; choreography by Alexandra Beller; music direction by Paul Staroba; scenic design by Adam Rigg; costume design by Jessica Pabst; lighting design by David Lander; sound design by Alex Hawthorn. Cast: Krystina Alabado, Leah Hocking, Emma Hunton, and Jay Armstrong Johnson.
Editor’s Note: The producers announced shortly after this review was published that Ben Fankhauser will not be returning to the production and Jay Armstrong Johnson will perform the role through the end of the run on December 17.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Emma Hunton and Krystina Alabado in ‘The Mad Ones;’ photo: Richard Termine.