By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
The theme for Broadway Rose’s 23d season is “Brass ‘n’ Sass” – and their current production of Band Geeks is a perfect way to start the music. This captivating new show is having its West Coast premiere at the New Stage in Tigard, and authors Tommy Newman, Gordon Greenberg, Gary Alter, and Mark Allen must be thoroughly jazzed about the quality of the production.
Band Geeks draws upon themes familiar to anyone who ever had the misfortune of attending an American high school – as Director Isaac Lamb says, “high school is proof that God has a wicked sense of humor.” While the material is certainly accessible to young people, the show’s appeal is by no means limited to this audience. We each find our own geeky way through adolescence, be it marching band, yearbook, drama, choir, debate, or 4H. The relationships we forge during these crucial years not only help us to survive the slings and arrows of a popularity-based social structure, they guide us toward the people we’ll become as adults.
The story is loaded with familiar elements – Elliott, the chubby and awkward tuba player who falls for the beautiful baton twirler (Nicole); Laura, the girl next door who is everybody’s buddy, but nobody’s prom date; Jake, the angry jock; Natalia, the out-of-touch foreign exchange student; Molly, the alienated Goth girl; Alvin, the cheerily snarky gay guy, and more. The story is familiar – beefy football players bullying the band geeks, lots of unrequited passion, underfunded arts programs saved at the last minute by inclusion in regional competitions, the one cool teacher (Mr. Hornsby) who understands and supports his crew of drifting hormones, Stewart, the pathetic mama’s boy, and Ms. Dixon, the mama who made him that way.
All in all, it is a simplistic, formulaic show that somehow kept the entire audience (including us) enthusiastic and engaged, with a heartfelt and sincere standing ovation at the end. The songs are plentiful and rarely memorable, but they serve the show well – as with all Broadway Rose productions, the arrangements and vocal ensemble lend a concert-like air to the evening. There are no weak performances, but a few of the players particularly sparkle. Zach Cossman (Jake) does “anger” convincingly – but it is through his prowess on the drums that he really finds his rhythm. Ryan Andrews (Elliott) manages to remain loveable despite the character’s nerdy neediness – he brings a naïve enthusiasm that tempers his self-absorption. The biggest laugh of the evening (it literally stopped the show) was a throwaway line delivered by David Swadis (Alvin), whose comic timing and delivery are impeccable. From her first moment on stage, the audience knows that Danielle Purdy (Laura) is the real star despite her unassuming affect. She quietly hovers in the background, ensuring that things go (relatively) well, until finally Elliott gives her the credit she deserves by giving her the position of bandleader. Her marvelous voice easily sells her solos, and provides an anchor for the ensemble numbers.
The two “adults” in the cast, Amy Jo Halliday (Ms. Dixon) and Joe Thiessen (Mr. Hornsby) play very different roles in the production. While Thiessen is given a meaty part with some real depth (and a great song, “If I Had a Stage”), Halliday’s character is little more than a cartoon, and her spectacular voice is wasted on her big number, the formulaic “For the Greater Good.”
An unexpected high point comes at the curtain call, when the real band geeks (the band, led by musical director Mont Chris Hubbard) join the cast at the front of the stage. Their appearance played no small part in motivating the opening night standing ovation.
While Band Geeks is in many ways classic Broadway Rose fare, it is exciting to see this venerable group tackling a completely new show (this is only its third professional production). We saw lots of fresh faces on both sides of the curtain – seven of twelve of the actors are new to Broadway Rose, and a lot of the audience looked like they were new to the New Stage (and will be coming back for more!).
Band Geeks runs through March 2 at the Broadway Rose New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard.