I'll Be Damned
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 9, 2010
Sondheim: Saturday Night. Webber and Rice: The Likes of Us. Bock and Harnick: The Body Beautiful. The questions: "What are the first musicals of some prominent musical theatre writers?" and "How much did their writing develop over time?"
Perhaps one day, we will look back on theatre lore and ask these questions about the writing team of Rob Broadhurst and Brent Black, a duo whose first professionally produced musical out of grad school is currently running at the Vineyard, under the auspices of Jaradoa (Just A Roomful of Artists Doing Outreach And) Theater.
The title is I'll Be Damned. It has been developed for a number of years at NYU, where Broadhurst and Black recently graduated from the Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program.
Subtitled "a devilish new musical," I'll Be Damned is the Faustian tale of Louis, a painfully nerdy, friendless 19-year-old boy who gives his soul over to the devil in exchange for just one friend. All of the characters are hopelessly delusional: Louis writes an amateur comic book called "Frendetta," about a female superhero who finds friends for people. Louis's Mom has sheltered her child from the entire world, home schooling him through high school (they have a graduation ceremony in their living room, with a small sign that reads "Number one teacher: Mom") and raising him to be her best friend and only companion. Meanwhile, Louis's soul is the only thing that can get the shockingly compassionate Satan a one-way ticket back into heaven.
The material shows that the writers are promising, but as a whole, it's a mixed bag. There are a few really nice numbers, the standout being "Alone," a duet for Satan and Louis. Many of Black's lyrics are filled with very simple, cheesy rhymes like "last resort / tech support" and "Valhalla / gala." A lot of Broadhurst's music sounds alike; there isn't very much diversity. The book, written by the two of them, could benefit from some nips and tucks; inside this almost two-hours-and-twenty-minutes presentation, there's a 90-minute intermissionless musical waiting to be freed. Director April Nickell's find-your-light direction doesn't seem to help things.
The cast, led by Mary Testa (as Mom), Kurt Robbins (as Satan), and Kenita R. Miller (as Frendetta), is quite strong. Testa brings a rich individuality to her numbers, which are seriously lacking in that department. Robbins is a charming Satan, a role that could be given more leeway to have fun. Miller sings the hell out of her superhero. Gregory Treco makes a very strong impression as a male nurse and God. Louis is played by a talented newcomer named Jacob Hoffman. He's got a great deal of charisma, plays the role with a lot of heart, but is poorly directed.
Perhaps one day, far into the future, if Broadhurst and Black become a Pulitzer and Tony-winning writing team, we'll be given the opportunity to revisit their long-since-forgotten piece called I'll Be Damned. It will be interesting to see what happens between now and then.