Girls vs. Boys
Book and lyrics by: Chris Mathews, Jake Minton,
and Nathan Allen
Music by: Kevin O’Donnell and Nathan Allen
Choreography by: Tommy Rapley
Directed by: Nathan Allen
Music Direction by: Ethan Deppe
Developed in partnership with the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University
House’s new loud musical strives for stardom, but feels like an opening act.
I love going to concerts, even though I don’t always have the time to get to them. There’s nothing like standing amongst a group of screaming fans cheering on your favorite artists. Singing your favorite songs at the top of your longs while giving in to the euphoria of a moving mass of people fully released of their inhibitions. Wicker Park is among the hottest areas for up and coming artists, rife with enough music venues to satisfy the musical needs of most anyone. House Theatre’s idea to turn their new loud (rock) musical at the Chopin Theatre, Girls vs. Boys, into a concert-like experience is a great idea that fits in perfectly with this part of Chicago. However, the material of the show does not create rock concert euphoria because it is not fun. The music is continually interrupted by long scenes of cheesy dialogue, the characters are stock and interchangeable, it is often difficult to hear the singer/actors onstage, and rather than stirring the audience into the frenzied euphoria I mentioned, it begs the audience to have fun.
It seems like the project is meant to be gritty and rebellious, but it comes across like a PSA to high school students. The basic story revolves around six teenagers searching for happiness in a world of sex, drugs, and parties. Casey (Tyler Ravelson) is on pills for his aggression, his sister Sam (Dillan Arrick) is a freshman wanting to be treated as an adult and finds company in party boy George (Kevin Stangler); Lane (Nicky Scheunke) has just had an abortion and struggles over the dissolution of her relationship with Kreuger (Joel Gross) who is rebounding with Lane’s friend Kate (Whitney White). The story feels like a teen soap opera on the WB with music. I can not fault the actors for effort, as they keep high energy throughout the show and do their best to deliver the dialogue in a sincere manner. Whitney White belts her songs with verve and sass, and Nicky Scheunke’s presence on her first number was the closest the show comes to feeling like a rock concert.
The biggest problem is the script. There were many times throughout the show I was unsure what was happening. At first it feels like an ensemble piece, but Kreuger and Lane’s story takes front and center rather than allowing all of the stories to be fully realized. The ending is dark, but then the cast breaks into an upbeat closing number. The characters feel fake so there is little to relate to, which makes the “heartbreaking” moments insignificant when all is said and done. These are characters I may have related to seven years ago, but now that I have finished college they are merely echoes of the past. There are some decent songs, but not enough to sustain the full two hour and fifteen minute performance. The other problem with the songs was I could barely make out half of the lyrics because the wireless microphones kept going out; the only consistency with sound was the handheld microphones that were used for solos. Since the sound was all over the place, some of the songs came across as noise rather than music.
The concert atmosphere is created by having a pit area where audience members can stand and move around throughout the show (you are able to get seats as well). It reminded me a lot of venues such as the Riviera and Aragon. Collette Pollard’s set design is wonderful in creating this effect and setting the tone from the first moment the audience enters the theatre. Director Nathan Allen has formed a show that is geared towards my demographic (college students, recent graduates, and late 20s), but it doesn’t speak to that group. If some of the language was cleaned up, this could possibly be done for high school students. They would probably be able to relate to the material more strongly. The success of each performance is highly dependent on the pit because if it is empty or they are visibly not enjoying themselves, that feeling translates to the rest of the audience. I have been in a pit with music I wasn’t crazy about, but everyone was having such a good time that the mood became infectious. The staging is problematic because a majority of the talking scenes are done with two characters standing far apart speaking lines back and forth. Other scenes, the characters are sitting on the ground in a corner of the stage that I could not see from the left side of the audience. For all of the problems with the script, one decision I can not put my finger around was the excessive use of guns. Every character often holds a glitzy silver gun and points it at someone as a threat. I believe it is supposed to be symbolic of the danger and violence, but it is used so excessively that it becomes a distraction. There is also an excessive use of red flower petals when people are “shot” and glitter for when people use pills. Rather than being striking visual moments, these symbols are overused and lose their impact by the fourth for fifth time they seen.
This is a show I really wanted to like because, as I said, I love concerts. This play is very different from others I have seen, and I give props to The House for taking risks and doing something different. However, if a show is going to rock, there has to be a reason to do so. Whether it’s punk rock about rebellion, classic rock about sex, intellectual indie rock, or the blazing anger of metal. If this musical is shortened (especially the prolonged dialogue sequences), the symbolism utilized in moderation, and the fun amplified, this could be an enjoyable evening. Writing a new work, let alone a new musical, is no easy task, but this is a script that needs to go back to the drawing board and speak to its intended audience.
Date of Review: 4/19/10
At Chopin Theatre Mainstage, 1543 W. Division Ave., Chicago, IL. Tickets pit $15, seats $25. Student rates available. Call 773-251-2195, www.TheHouseTheatre.com. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 7:00 PM. Running time is approximately 2 hour 15 minutes with intermission. Through May 29, 2010.