nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
September 28, 2007
John Gregor's With Glee is billed as "A New, Old-Fashioned Musical Comedy," and boy is it ever. With Glee wallows in the clichés of low-budget musical, all the way from the choreography that will remind you of high school to the 11 songs that sound pretty much the same. Fortunately for the production, if most of the songs all sound like one song, that one song is pretty appealing, and the show is blessed with a talented and enthusiastic cast.
The play tells the story of five middle-school-aged boys thrown together in a boarding school in Maine. They are a pretty standard set of characters: the misfit, Nathaniel whose misbehavior in hopes of fitting in has gotten him sent here; the poor kid, Sam; the rich kid, Scott; the gay kid, Kip; and the weird kid, Clay. The basic arc of the story is Nathaniel's quest to make friends, which is difficult for him because his parents are divorced and he moves around a lot. It becomes even more difficult after he meets his roommate, Clay, a kid who carries a model boat named "Mortimer" everywhere he goes. After Sam is revealed to have come from a rough childhood and starts getting attention, Nathaniel makes up a story about having a girlfriend, which briefly gets him attention but will soon lead to theft, punishments, and the mounting of a ridiculous play Kip has written about Tomas the German paratrooper.
With Glee's main strength is its cast, which dives into the sometimes cheesy book and lyrics with enthusiasm. As Sam, Ryan Speakman has a faux-tough appeal reminiscent of Mark-Paul Gosselar, and Dan Lawler gives Clay a creepy edginess that adds a little depth to the play. Michael J. Miller as all the male adults is very strong, and he leads what was probably my favorite song, the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque "If You Want to Be a Vanderberg." The show's standout, however, is Kevin Michael Murphy as Kip. He knows exactly when to add a wink or a nudge to the material that shows us he is in on the joke, and when he kicks it into high gear as Tomas in Kip's self-produced musical, he made me want to sit and watch a story about this ridiculous German paratrooper all night.
John Gregor won't win any converts with With Glee, but if you already have affection for the form, and perhaps fond and not-so-fond memories of boarding school, you'll likely enjoy yourself at this NYMF production.