Sunday, 19 February 2017

John Kander and Greg Pierce's KID VICTORY at the Vineyard Theatre

     After a week of enduring Wallace Shawn's dystopian yawn and David Byrne's dreary history lesson, I was almost ready to give up on theatre. John Kander and Greg Pierce's daring, deeply moving KID VICTORY shocked me back into my love for theatre and optimism about the possibilities for the American musical. KID VICTORY takes you the audience into very dark places. It has the depth and emotional impact of a fine play. Actually it is more a play with music than a conventional musical.
     Luke (Brandon Flynn), is a troubled adolescent with a much darker and more complex emotional life than his Broadway counterpart, the title character of DEAR EVAN HANSEN. When the show begins, Luke has returned from almost a year in bondage in the basement of Michael (Jeffrey Denman), a former history teacher and current psychopath. Michael alternated being loving and crazy-cruel, nonetheless the relationship was not totally forced on Luke. Return to a cozy, conventional, rural, Christian Kansas home is impossible for Luke who has been much too changed by his life with Michael, who will never be totally out of his head. He knows he's a freak, an outsider. His mother (Karen Ziemba), and former girlfriend (Laura Darrell), want him to be the way he was before he left. His father (Daniel Jenkins), is silent but more an ally that Luke at first comprehends.  Luke's only friend is an older woman, sort of an ex-hippie, who runs a failing garden store. Outside of that store, Luke feels more imprisoned than he was on the island with Michael.
     Through flashbacks we discover the complex nature of Luke's relationship with Michael. I'm not going to indulge in spoilers. Suffice it to say that what we see in KID VICTORY challenges our definition of love and, if we can't suspend our moral judgment, we loosen it a bit. Some folks--even in New York--will be shocked by KID VICTORY. Like his contemporary Stephen Sondheim, John Kander has always been drawn to outsiders. In KID VICTORY, it's the normal folks who seem strange--and it's the normal folks who do most of the singing. Luke doesn't sing at all.--he's too trapped inside his head for music. John Kander has written a beautiful score and Greg Pierce's lyrics are always in character and often deeply moving. Special praise. also needs to be given to Michael Starobin for the lovely orchestrations. The small band sounds like a full orchestra.
     The cast is superb. Brandon Flynn makes us feel Luke's torment. This isn't a kid simply trapped in a lie like Evan Hansen. Luke can't accept that he is feeling powerful emotions he knows are not "normal."  This is anguish and Flynn's body language captures it beautifully. He is surrounded by an excellent ensemble of singing actors. Liesl Tommy's staging and Christopher Windom's unobtrusive, choreography perfectly underscore the show's complex mood. The setting never changes from the room in which Luke was imprisoned--mentally and emotionally he's still in that room. There's an odd moment where Kander and Pierce give us an upbeat number complete with tap dancing. At first it seems odd, but it's a moment in which Luke is offered a moment of joy and sex that he is too haunted to enjoy.
     KID VICTORY is dark, but it is anything but hopeless. It's about redemption and forgiveness, including self-forgiveness. Above all it's about love. I have already seen it twice. If you have any interest in musical theatre that presents real, contemporary situations and emotions, don't miss KID VICTORY.

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