The new Broadway musical Gettin’ the Band Back Together would very much like you to know that it’s an original show. Producer Ken Davenport made a point to remind the audience of this fact at a preview performance I attended Friday night. At a time when Broadway marquees can resemble your streaming queue (Pretty Woman, Mean Girls, Frozen, School of Rock—shall I go on?) or pop playlist (Head Over Heels, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, The Cher Show—shall I go on?), it’s certainly worth noting that this new musical comedy opening at the Belasco Theatre is an original work. Yet for all the emphasis on that “O” word, Gettin’ The Band Back Together is not particularly original — but it’s a song that’s fun to listen to, even if it sounds like ones you’ve heard before.
Directed by Tony winner John Rando (Urinetown) with music and lyrics by Mark Allen and a book by Davenport and a group of performers and writers collectively known as Grundleshotz, Band focuses on a different group of Jersey boys (and girls). Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis, Rock of Ages) once dreamed of becoming a rock star, but packed those dreams in a metaphorical guitar case to head into the boring working world; when he gets fired from his New York stock-broker job on his 40th birthday, he’s forced to cross state lines and move back in with his mother, Sharon (Taxi star and Emmy nominee Marilu Henner, gamely doing her best with a thin part), in the Garden State. He’s welcomed back by familiar faces—childhood pal Bart (Jay Klaitz), now a math teacher with the hots for Mitch’s mom, and former high-school sweetheart, Dani (Kelli Barrett), both of whom still live in town—and greeted with the song “Jersey,” featuring a car-packed ensemble and lyrical nods to the turnpike, the shore, and hometown hero Jon Bon Jovi. (In fact, the entire musical is filled with New Jersey jokes — “New York, Plan B,” as they call it — and your mileage with them will vary depending on your affinity for/proximity to that part of the tri-state area.)
But what sets the story in motion is a less warm-and-fuzzy run-in with Mitch’s onetime music rival, an overly tanned and tattooed alpha-bro named Tygen Billows with bleached hair and an ax to grind (played by Brandon Williams, milking a villainous part for all it’s worth in his Broadway debut). Tygen threatens to foreclose on Mitch’s family home unless he and his high-school buddies agree to a 25-year-later rematch at the local Battle of the Bands. So it’s off to round up his other two former bandmates (Paul Whitty and Manu Narayan), add some young blood into the mix (Sawyer Nunes, playing a teen who ridiculously calls himself Ricky Bling but shreds guitar like a pro), and get to playing.
Everything that follows is about what you’d expect, like a band on tour who knows the crowd just wants to hear the hits. Jarvis makes Mitch someone to root for, but his stakes never feel particularly high. A love-triangle plot doesn’t play as believable — Dani and Tygen are dating, just because? — especially after she and Mitch recount the romance of their youth in “Best Day of My Life,” an ode to young love at Six Flags and Springsteen concerts (the kind you don’t have to shell out Broadway bucks for). Will Mitch and Dani rekindle their romance? Will our protagonists’ band, Juggernaut, beat Tygen and his posse of fellow leather-clad villains in the cringe-inducingly-named Mouthfeel? Does a reference to Sharon’s history with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry back in her groupie days come back around as part of a song (and then again, later on in the show)? Will you get one of the Rice Krispies Treats passed around at intermission? That last question might be the one you wonder about most, because the paper-thin plot doesn’t leave much else up for debate.
That said, even if the route is obvious, Gettin’ the Band Back Together is not a bad ride. The sets, from Derek McLane, have a quirky 2-D, animated feel to them, while Emily Rebholz’s costumes span from matching sweatsuits to biker looks and one particularly sparkly robe. Williams is a hoot to watch as Tygen, seemingly channeling a mix of Ben Stiller’s Dodgeball character and his Tony Wonder from Arrested Development. A romantic storyline between Ricky and Dani’s teen activist daughter is sweet to watch, while Bart’s attraction to Mitch’s mom is played for laughs. And while none of the musical’s songs are bound for a greatest hits compilation, they fit the upbeat, rocking vibe the show is going for.
To keep with the musical parlance of the title, Gettin’ the Band Back Together is like hearing an artist cover a favorite song — it’s not the first time you’ve heard it, and it might not be all that original, but you’ll be smiling and tapping your feet just the same. B-