Idol: The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
August 9, 2007
If you're a fan of American Idol, you might want to pass on Idol: The Musical. Not only because it's ridiculously overpriced ($60!) but because the muddled message seems to be "Get a life." This begs the question: who is this musical intended to entertain? Surrealists?
As the lights rise on Idol: The Musical, and the tinny, canned music pipes in for the first time, what appear to be druids enter upstage, worshipping at a covered statue. These druids are de-robed and revealed to be white-toothed, peppy teens and the covered statue is revealed to be a tall, flat wooden version of Clay Aiken. Among these teens are a Goth-girl named Cass, a sexually repressed schoolmarm named Emily, a home-schooled geek named Connor, and an assortment of other freaks.
This gang of rejects (pulled from the lesser days of John Hughes) is, we're told, obsessed with the ubiquitous Clay and, moreover, fame and escape from their humdrum, small-town lives. When an opportunity presents itself to audition for a local Clay-themed tour, hilarity ensues.
It's a stock plot for stock characters, but that's never stopped musical comedy from creating pleasurable confections. What is lacking here is coherence and execution. The plot meanders around hackneyed couplings (will the Tomboy learn to love the guy-who-dresses-like-a-cowboy?) and sloppy exposition before it arrives at a deflating payoff. There is a villain of sorts, a backstabbing "diva," but her betrayal of her friends seems almost counterproductive and her eventual comeuppance is utterly arbitrary.
Beyond the plot's inadequacies are some simply head-scratching creations. One character, Cicaida, wears a Catholic school-girl uniform even though she goes to community college, speaks in a British accent, stops the action to define not-terribly-big-words, and apparently works at the "stables" to pay for tuition. Huh? J.D., a small-town basketball star, reveals that he'd rather be a Chippendale dancer and engages in a bizarre flesh-to-flesh striptease with Oklahoma!-obsessed Duncan. Perhaps this sort of randomness is intended to be whimsical. Instead, it just seems shoddily constructed and ill-conceived.
The songs are forgettable at best (perhaps "Prima Donna Fabulous" could pass for the best song) and actually difficult to watch at worst ("Simon Says" made me recoil, slightly, in my seat). The dancing is unremarkable, to put it kindly.
None of this can be blamed on the actors, all of whom do their best in thanklessly written roles. Standouts include Stephanie Robinson, who throws herself into Clay (rather literally) with aplomb; Phillip Deyesso who earns some of the show's only laughs by, essentially, insisting on them; and Kierstyn Sharrow who remarkably finds something to act in her stereotypical Goth-girl character, Cass.
What does all this amount to? The characters, in the end, find themselves disenchanted with Idol, graduate from college, and tell the audience to realize that real courage comes from being a "real person." If, in the end, what we're supposed to learn is that American Idol is a mediocre, industrial, commercial enterprise; that's not something that it takes $60 and some sloppy staging to learn. If the message is "dream a little smaller..." that's a hard message to swallow from an off-Broadway show.