nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 10, 2008
The Johnny is a new musical comedy that purports to answer this question: what happens to the burly blond jock in all those '80s movies after he loses to the scrappy nerdy underdog? Ostracized by his parents, his friends, indeed, his school, Johnny embarks on a quest to find fulfillment, aided by an Irish expatriate coach, the shunned new girl in school, and the wise new waitress at the local bar. No karate contest here, though; the chosen sport is racquetball. The means of redemption: tap dancing.
It is a fun premise, earnestly performed by a talented cast, aiding by the clever choreography of Grady McLeod Bowman. The book and lyrics by David L. Williams (who also directed) have moments of hilarity and wit. The music by David F. M. Vaughn just doesn't rise to the occasion. The initial number, "The Johnny," works as a peppy up-tempo opener and there is much humor in Johnny's parents singing to him "You've Disappointed Us," but on the whole the music reflects a limited palette without any real melodies. I know, this is a style of many musicals nowadays. It's a style this reviewer just doesn't happen to like.
Derek Krantz is well cast as Johnny. We continue to root for him despite his character's obvious egocentricities because he is such an engaging and likeable actor. Likewise the nerdy Kyle is played effectively by Jonathan Cody White. It's not his fault he just happens to be the best racquetball player ever in the history of the school. Besides, he brings a kindler gentler ethos to school life once he deposes Johnny from the "Most Popular" throne. Joshua Brandenburg is very funny as Johnny's ever-present sycophantic booster pal. Rori Nogee, Ashley Ander, and Jennifer Margulis are all very good as the love interests—the nerd, the sexpot, and the true love. Veterans Seamus MacKowen and Jean McCormick make the most of their material and do fine work. All in all, it is a talented cast that is fun to watch.
Scenic designer Dan Levine solves the special problem of needing multiple sets in a FringeNYC show by using projections to designate the place and adding furniture as needed. The five-piece pop rock band sits upstage center, where musical director Jad Bernardo ably conducts from one of the two keyboards. The singers are all miked.
It is overall an enjoyable evening because the book is funny in a tongue-in-cheek way. Though the plot twists are predictable they are still fun to watch. I just wish there were some more tunes—I went out at the end not humming a single one.