February 2, 2019

“Eddie and Dave” Has Little to Say—or Sing

One of the questions I often ask myself after seeing a new show is: why are the show makers telling me this story?  
I haven’t been able to figure out the answer to that question for Eddie and Dave, the bio-play about the rise and fall of the rock band Van Halen that is running at the Atlantic Theater Stage Two through Feb. 17.

Maybe it would have helped if I were a Gen-Xer who grew up with the band during its big-hair heyday from the late ‘70s to the mid-‘80s. But I doubt it. Cause Eddie and Dave is little more than a shallow “Behind the Music”-style account of the drugs, sex and rock and roll that undid the partnership between Eddie Van Halen, the shy lead guitarist and principal songwriter for the eponymous band; and David Lee Roth, its flamboyant vocalist.

Playwright Amy Staats is clearly unabashed in her love for the band and she attempts to draw the audience in by framing her homage to it as a mystery that will reveal what lead to Roth’s infamous (at least to his fans) meltdown during a failed band reunion on the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. But (spoiler alert) that question isn’t really answered either. We get what happened but not why.

Nor, probably for budgetary reasons, do we get much of the band's music. There are snatches here and there, including the familiar opening chords of the group’s biggest hit “Jump.” But the rest is mainly pastiche music from composer Michael Thurber, setting up the odd phenomenon of a riff on the standard jukebox musical that offers lots of juke but little authentic music.

But the thing that really sets Eddie and Dave apart from the recent rash of rock biographies around is that all the male characters are portrayed by women, including Staats as Eddie, Megan Hill as Dave and Adina Verson as Dave’s older brother and the group’s drummer Alex (bassist Michael Anthony is inexplicably portrayed by a photo on the wall). The female characters are played by one man, Omer Abbas-Salem, who is clearly having a great time but projects none of the sweet-faced optimism of the actress Valerie Bertinelli who began a 26-year marriage with Eddie in 1981.

Hair designer Cookie Jordan’s long mullet wigs and costume designer Montana Levi Blance’s heavy metal-chic outfits are amusing but neither the actual performances nor the narration supplied by a music journalist character provide any fresh commentary on what it means to be a rock star or a man and the gender-crossing conceit quickly wears thin. 

Despite Margot Bordelon’s lively direction my mind kept wandering even though the show only runs 90-minutes. By the end, Eddie and Dave seemed little more than a comedy skit that had overstayed its welcome and might have been more at home on the bill of some Lilith Fair version of a fringe festival.  

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