May 7, 2008
No Glory for "Glory Days"
Update: two hours after this entry was posted, it was announced that this show would close after just 19 previews and only one performance.
Almost every theater geek can think back to some youthful desire to make a show about his or her buddies. Mine was to be called These Are My Friends and centered around a group of precocious kids at an arty college like the one my precocious friends and I attended. It’s been decades since I thought about These Are My Friends but watching the new musical Glory Days not only reminded me of it but also made me deeply grateful that I never did anything with it. For this little show about four young misfits who get together a year after their high school graduation is an unnecessary flop.
The story of how Glory Days got to Broadway became lore even before it opened at Circle in the Square last night. Two friends—the show’s composer Nick Blaemire and book writer James Gardiner—started writing a musical 7 years ago when they were still in high school. They grew up to be actors and while performing in productions at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, persuaded that company’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer to take a look at their script. Apparently impressed by their nascent talent, Schaeffer gave their show a full-fledged production in January.
Peter Marks, the lead theater critic for the Washington Post, saw Glory Days and gave it such an encouraging review (click here to read what he said then and here to read what he says now) that producers John O'Boyle and Ricky Stevens decided to bring it to Broadway and, according to a Variety article (click here to read about them) beat out two other transfer candidates —Next to Normal and [title of show]—to get the space recently vacated by that hit nerd fest, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
I can imagine how Blaemire, 23, and Gardiner, who recently turned 24, must have felt when they got the news. In fact, you can read how they feel in their Playbill bios. “Can’t believe this is happening. Not one bit,” acknowledges Blaemire. But I don’t want to imagine how they must feel reading today’s reviews. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley made every effort to avoid slamming these young guys, diplomatically saying that while the show may “evoke tears of pride and nods of recognition among friends and relatives of the writers. Average theatergoers will probably feel less indulgent.” Others were far less kind. Wrote amNY critic Matt Windman, “After enduring all 90 painful minutes of this undercooked, horribly amateurish show, you'll be wondering how the hell it got to Broadway.”
I do wonder. Although I can’t say I wasn’t warned. My buddy Bill and I try to avoid talking about a show until we’ve both seen it. But over the weekend, I got an email from him that read “Last night I saw the worst show I've seen in, oh, several years. Excruciating. My lips are sealed till I see you and know what you’ve been seeing.” By a process of elimination, I had a pretty good idea which show he meant. Still, I hadn’t expected Glory Days’ book to be so unformed (the boys simply wander around the stage talking about how they have and haven’t changed and then wander off) or the music to be so uninspiring (with just two exceptions, the show’s 15 art-pop songs all sounded the same to me).
The actors playing the friends—Steven Booth, Andrew C. Call, Adam Halpin, Jesse JP Johnson—are full of energy but Schaeffer, who directed the production, doesn’t given them much to do besides running up and down the metal bleachers that, along with reflector lights, constitute scenic designer James Kronzer’s entire set. Bill says that in an effort to keep himself involved, he counted the lights; there are 480.
Even the harshest critics are loathed to blame—or discourage—the show’s young creators. All of us who love Broadway are delighted when young people want to bring their experiences and talent to live theater. But youthful enthusiasm just isn’t enough. I don't know if Glory Days could ever have become glorious but it should never have been brought to Broadway the way it is now.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the vibrant In the Heights, is, at 28, only slightly older than Blaemire and Gardiner but he began working on his show when he was in high school too. Fortunately for him, and for us, he hooked up with Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, the producing team that also brought Rent and Avenue Q to Broadway and who clearly know how to develop young talent and how not to push it into the big time prematurely. The difference between their shows and Glory Days is a reminder that producing is also an art.