August 15, 2007

The Fall of "Idol: the Musical"

Here's the dilemma: The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone's enthusiasm for the theater— either as a creator or a consumer. And I certainly don't want to dampen the spirits of any young people who are just starting out in the business. But Idol: The Musical, which opened and closed on Sunday night, put both of my resolves to the test.

The show, which called itself “a satirical musical comedy that focuses on the outrageous and delusional fan base of the hit television show” –read "American Idol" –seems to have started out as a student project at Syracuse University; its composer and lyricist Jon Balcourt will be a senior there in the fall and, according to the production notes, this is only the second show he's ever written. Balcourt isn't totally without talent but he isn't anywhere near precocious enough for people to have hiked over to the 45th Street Theatre and forked over $60 a ticket to see his work.

I confess that it was schadenfreude that caused me to see it. I was intrigued by the idea of poking fun at a pop cultural juggernaut like "American Idol" and curious about the show's decision to replace its entire 10-member cast just nine days before opening. But as I sat watching the show, I wondered if the original cast had simply mutinied and abandoned ship. The book, about a group of misunderstood college losers who are brought together by their devotion to "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken, was patched together with cannibalized bits from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Spring Awakening and even the Disney Channel’s High School Musical. The direction leaned heavily on having people drop their pants for laughs. And, although I refuse to name to names because they are so young, some of the cast members sang as though they might be closely related to William Hung. I found myself wincing constantly. The man sitting next to me kept sighing heavily until he couldn’t take it any more and bolted for the door about halfway through the 90-minute show. That started a mini-stampede.

I stayed to the end. But there was the smell of a vanity project about the whole production, a strong whiff of parents with money overindulging their wunderkind. Kids deserve better than that. And so I hope that those involved in this production who still need to finish school will do so, that the few truly talented among their number will continue to hone their craft and that in years to come, they all will look back on this experience as just the case of goofy collegiate high jinks that it was and should have stayed.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Amazing that you were actually there!!! That will be one to tell the grandkids about, right up there with Carrie - The Musical, I'm sure!