By Erin Fleming
Men under the age of 25 have never been the target demographic for musical theater, (at least not until the success of The Book of Mormon), so it was really no surprise when Nick Blaemire and James Gradiner‘s rock-infused musical Glory Days about four friends reuniting one year after high school did not have a long run on Broadway in 2008.
In fact, it closed after opening night.
The feeling among critics at that time was that this well-intentioned, intimate character study about the “inadequacy that boys can experience on the precipice of manhood” was underserved by the bigness of Broadway, and that it would do much better in a smaller house. Indeed, the producers of The Refuge Theatre Project, a new company founded last fall by Ross Egan and Morgan Glynn Briggs, have stated that they believe this show will find its true audience among the hipsters and young professionals of Wicker Park, where they are staging the Chicago Premiere in Room 300 of Collaboraction Theatre’s space in the Flatiron Arts Building.
Sometimes the right venue will make all the difference. Sometimes finding the right audience is all that is needed. And sometimes, none of that helps.
True enough, Wicker Park hispsters will have an easier time than middle-aged suburbanites might hiking up the three stories of the Flatiron Arts Building to Room 300. They might be undaunted by the dusty floors and walls so papered with artsy project flyers that one can’t readily identify where they might be hiding the restroom. Surely they will appreciate the BYOB policy, pay no nevermind to the lack of printed programs, and will be unfazed by the curious decision not to announce that will be no intermission during the 90-minute performance. There are clearly young and young-at-heart theatergoers who will be utterly charmed by the retro, collegiate experience of it’s all happening here.
Alas, what’s charming in our 20s is often exhausting and off-putting in our later years, and that, it turns out, is the exact problem with the play.
The premise seems promising at first: four good friends, Will, Jack, Skip and Andy, meet on their high school’s football field to reconnect, share stories about their “glory days,” and compare notes on how they’ve changed since they last saw each other. The problem here is that the glory days in question weren’t years ago; they were merely months ago. These aren’t four seasoned men who have gone off to have careers and families and adventure on the high seas, checking things off their bucket lists – they are four dudes home after their freshman year of college.
Have they learned lessons about themselves? Sure. But the identity crises and angst-ridden navel-gazing of four rising sophomores is hardly all that compelling in real life, less so on stage. And putting it to music does not help.
At all. Even in the excellent hands of a really, really tight band. As one of the many overly-lyricized songs, “Generation Apathy,” notes, the characters themselves seem bored by their own drama.
They’re not the only ones.
It’s certainly not the fault of the talented cast and creative team. The show is paced extremely well, directed and choreographed in a truly earnest attempt to find compelling, authentic moments in the material. All four actors are likeable and watchable, with good comic timing and impressive voices.
Bradley Atkinson, as the puckish protagonist, Will, pulls the audience in immediately. William Rude‘s Skip handles the wittier lines well, as Roy Brown delivers the broad, low comedy expected from everyone’s frat-boy friend, Andy. Hunter Lindner is great as the quietly conflicted Jack, who, it might be argued, is the only character that has anything of note to actually report from freshman year.
If Will, Jack, Skip and Andy can survive high school and move on to bigger and better things, certainly Bradley, Hunter, William and Roy can expect a similar fate. They have long careers ahead of them.
Refuge Theater’s vision and gumption in taking on a show with this many challenges is to be commended and speaks well of what we may expect from them in the future. Will audiences take a cue from the final moments between Will and Skip? Will they forgive and decide to give the relationship another chance? Will they climb those three stories again to see another show?
Refuge Theatre Project’s Chicago premiere of “Glory Days” runs through September 20 at Room 300, Collaboraction, Flatiron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., 3rd Floor. Tickets are $20 and available here.