Review: The Amiable Schlock of ‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together’
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, August 14, 2018
Sometimes shows come to Broadway that automatically get the online theater wags sharpening their knives. Before a show has even played its first preview, the theaterati start taking bets on when it will close, and polishing off their “What were they thinking?” posts for their dishy little chat rooms.
The new musical Gettin’ the Band Back Together in particular withstood quite a bit of virtual vitriol as it played through previews at the storied Belasco Theatre. Perhaps it was the mundane subject matter: a bunch of middle-aged guys resurrecting their high school band. Maybe there was some bad blood between certain members of the production staff and the Broadway community.
Whatever the reason, Broadway didn’t seem ready to welcome Gettin’ the Band Back Together with open arms. And I must confess that I went into the show with extremely low expectations. And perhaps those lowered expectations set me up to be pleasantly surprised. I have a feeling this is going to give me a bit of a black eye with my fellow theater mavens, but…guys, I kind of liked it.
Yeah, it’s schlock, but it’s amiable schlock. No, it doesn’t break any new ground, and it will hardly go down in history as one of the greats. And in truth, it’s not particularly well written. But the celebratory atmosphere of Gettin’ the Band Back Together, its tongue-in-cheek tackiness, and the affable nature of both the characters and the performers inhabiting those characters begrudgingly won me over.
The show’s producer/co-librettist Ken Davenport starts the show with a seemingly self-aggrandizing curtain speech. (It turns out the curtain speech creates an admittedly fun callback later in the show.) Davenport mentions that Gettin’ the Band Back Together constitutes that Broadway rarity, an original musical (i.e. not a movie adaptation, and not a jukebox tuner). Although this claim is technically true, the show is all too reminiscent of at least a half dozen other shows, including School of Rock, The Wedding Singer, The Full Monty, and even Fiddler on the Roof.
So, “original”? Not exactly. We’ve seen this kind of story over and over, not just on Broadway, but in countless Hollywood romcoms. Sympathetic guy loses his job and retreats to his hometown. Various plot exigencies drive him to take that One Big Chance, and he learns important life lessons along the way. Yawn. But Gettin’ the Band Back Together nonetheless charms with its good-natured humor, especially about itself.
There’s a genuine, sympathetic feel to the characters in Gettin’ the Band Back Together. I actually didn’t mind spending time with these people, which is more than I could say for the characters in This Ain’t No Disco, or even Be More Chill. We don’t get much in the way of backstory for the characters or genuine depth, but the performers in particular make these people endearing.
Mitchell Jarvis as the central character Mitch Papadopoulos is especially endearing, a trait Jarvis demonstrated amply in the original cast of Rock of Ages. Paul Whitty (from the original cast of Once) is also quite the charmer as Sully, the cop/drummer who secretly yearns to perform in musicals.
Perhaps the most captivating of all is Jay Klaitz as Bart Vickers, the math teacher who’s bad at math, who has a terrific set piece in the second act about the rather surprising woman he ends up with (which I will not deign to spoil here). Even Brandon Williams as Tygen, the spray-tanned, muscle-brained leader of the rival band, makes this oily character less a villain than a winning comic foil for the rest of the cast.
Again, Gettin’ the Band Back Together is far from perfect. For a show about a rock band, it’s actually at its best when it’s not singing. The score is by one Mark Allen, whose only previous show of note is Band Geeks!, which played the Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in 2010. Most of the songs sound pretty much the same, except for a rather creaky ballad in act two. The songs do serve their respective functions in the show, and are especially effective when giving each of these lovable losers a chance to shine.
Dramatically, there are quite a few dead spots, including including an extended scene in a local diner in which every major character gets a forced bit of plot progression. There’s a hoary running joke about the town drunk that seems lifted from every 1950s sitcom, although the payoff to this bit is amusing. Many of the would-be jokes fail to land, including one regarding a miniature version of Hall and Oates. And there’s a rather ridiculous deus ex machina plot resolution that involves Mitch’s mother (played winningly by TV legend and self-improvement guru Marilu Henner) and her former romantic involvement with a certain guitarist from Aerosmith.
Director John Rando keeps the show moving at a brisk pace. Rando seems to specialize in bringing out the inherent humor and humanity of a piece, as he did with the original Urinetown and the recent smashing revival of On the Town. Here, Rando includes numerous “wink wink” touches that add to the show’s self-deprecating humor, including an amusing “scene in one,” during which a traveler comes down that features a blow-up of the town’s local web site, and includes a teaser that says something to the effect of “Breaking News! In-one Scenes Back in Fashion!”
On the whole, I felt the same after Gettin’ the Band Back Together as I did when I saw It Shoulda Been You. I knew I wasn’t witnessing quality musical theater, but I was engaged, I liked the people on stage, and I forgot myself for about two hours. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
Gettin’ The Band Back Together at The Belasco Theatre, 111 W 44th Street, for an open run. Book by Ken Davenport and Grundleshotz; additional material by Sarah Saltzberg; music and lyrics by Mark Allen. Directed by John Rando; choreography by Chris Bailey; scenic design by Derek McLane; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Ken Billington; sound design by John Shivers; wig, hair and make-up design by J. Jared Janas; music direction by Sonny Paladino.
Cast: Mitchell Jarvis, Jay Klaitz, Manu Narayan, Paul Whitty, Sawyer Nunes, Marilu Henner, Kelli Barrett, Becca Kötte, Garth Kravits, Tamika Lawrence, Noa Solorio, Brandon Williams, Lindsey Brett Carothers, Ryan Duncan, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Hill, Nehal Joshi, J. Elaine Marcos, Rob Marnell, Jasmin Richardson, Ian Ward, and Tad Wilson.
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Cover: (l. to. r.) Manu Narayan, Jay Klaitz, Paul Whitty (center), Sawyer Nunes, and Mitchell Jarvis in ‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together;’ photo: Joan Marcus.