As anyone with even a casual acquaintance with the New York theater scene can attest, the season for Broadway musicals has been awfully disappointing, to say the least. The Addams Family? Million Dollar Quartet? Come Fly Away? Yeesh. Even the leading Tony contenders -- Fela, Memphis, and American Idiot -- are ambitious but significantly flawed.
Fortunately the Off Broadway scene has brightened things up considerably, with such alternately challenging and entertaining offerings as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Scottsboro Boys, and Yank. Of course, we also had to endure Ordinary Days, Vanities, and Tin Pan Alley Rag along the way, but, as in all things, ya gotta take the good with the bad.
Fortunately, we can now add The Kid to the asset column. The new musical, which is currently being offered by The New Group at the Acorn Theater at 42nd Street's Theatre Row, is a charming mix of old-fashioned presentation and ultra-modern subject matter. The show is based on the memoir The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant by Dan Savage, author of the popular sex column (or, as his character in the show keeps insisting, "a forum on politics and relationships") called Savage Love.
The Kid comes from a talented trio of newcomers: Michael Zam (book), Andy Monroe (music), and Jack Lechner, (lyrics). And based on what I saw and heard at The Kid, I consider these three men very promising, indeed. The writing here is sweet, clever, and honest, and mostly free of the pretense and awkward presentation rife in so many recent Off Broadway offerings. I know I'd much rather see The Kid again that sit through another self-conscious, would-be camp fest like Evil Dead or Toxic Avenger.
The show starts with a tuneful and quirky opening number, called "I'm Asking You," which nicely sets the scene and the standard for the rest of the evening, and fortunately the rest of the show, for the most part, follows through on that promise. The show relates the engaging tale of how Savage (played here with great charm by the always-delightful Christopher Sieber) and his partner Terry (an animated and appealing Lucas Steele) went through the open adoption process to become parents. Thankfully, the resulting show is relatively free of bromide and treacle, both a definite danger given the subject matter.
The score is satisfyingly complex in its ambitions and execution, with songs featuring complicated rhythms and verbal patterns to match the complex emotions of the characters presenting the songs. Standout numbers in the show include "Nice," which cleverly emerges from the jazz CD that Dan and Terry play during the first visit of the adoption coordinator (the wondrous Susan Blackwell). During a flashback, one of Dan's first gifts to his incipient boyfriend inspires the amusing mock romantic ballad, "Gore Vidal." And a warm and winning Jill Eikenberry gets to deliver "I Knew," in which Dan's mother relates that she knew he was gay since the time he fell in love with the movie "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and insisted on reenacting scene after scene.
Amid the joys of the score are a few admitted clunkers, including the number in which Dan, Terry, and friends visit a nightclub as a sort of last hurrah before parenthood commences. The number is called "Seize the Day," and is every bit as uninspired as its title. Some of the songs in the show serve valid purposes, but somehow fail to achieve their desired ends, including "When They Put Him in Your Arms" and "It Gets Better." The first is meant to convince Dan that he'll feel a stronger connection to the baby when he actually gets to hold him. The second tries to convey to both Dan and Terry that, although parenthood may seem challenging...well, it is, and very much so. But, as the title implies, it's something that they'll eventually adapt to. But the songs themselves fail to impress, on either a musical or lyrical level.
Despite the sometimes pedestrian songs, the show on the whole is a winner. The story is quite engrossing, with Zam's book maintaining the tension until the very end of the show. And director Scott Elliot maintains a steady pace, and helps the talented group actors craft appropriately realistic portrayals that add to the emotional impact of the piece. The Kid is currently slated to run at the Acorn until May 29th. I would humbly suggest that, instead of trying to cram in the lackluster Broadway fare before the Tony Awards, you should sidle on down to 42nd Street and catch this captivating and funny new tuner.
Grade: A minus (Charming and tuneful, with an engaging story, and a strong cast of some of New York's best performers.)