Band Geeks: A Halftime Musical
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 21, 2006
The wave of 1980s nostalgia sweeping this year's FringeNYC Festival continues in the crowd-pleasing new show, Band Geeks: A Halftime Musical. This underdog story about a high school marching band trying to get respect and get laid is at times crass, juvenile, and obvious. It is also funny and likeable, inducing guilt-free laughter at some of the most uncouth things one can think of, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being one of the smash hits of this year's festival.
The setting is 1989 Elyria, Ohio, "a suburb of a suburb of Cleveland," as one character puts it. The protagonists are the members of the Elyria Pioneer Marching Band, a motley crew of freaks and geeks. Persecuted by the jocks and the popular crowd, and facing the loss of their school funding, the band gets a chance to redeem themselves when they're invited to perform the halftime show at a nationally televised Cleveland Browns Monday Night Football game. Can they save their funding (and their dignity) in time?
Composer Andy Eninger's playful score is a lesson in 80s Pop Music Styles 101. The Devo-inspired opening number, "Band Camp," introduces the band geeks with riotous admissions like "I hope I learn how to kiss with tongue" and "I dream of blowjobs, Atari, and beer." In "The Music's in You," band director Mr. Bradford encourages his young charges to "listen to your heart because the music's in you" backed by an intentionally un-funky hip hop beat. Go, white boy!
Book writers Becky Eldridge and Amy Petersen get off some good one-liners, too. The band's resident Goth Girl proudly admits that her nickname at band camp "was Crater Crotch." Drum major Joey confesses at one point that "both my parents died during childbirth." Eldridge, doubling as Stephanie, the pregnant majorette, gives herself one of the show's funniest lines: moments after delivering her newborn son she cheerfully announces, "I can't wait to start drinking again!"
I have to tell you, though: when we finally see the band in action—performing "Eye of the Tiger" to Paula Kroening's hilarious choreography—it's easy to cheer for this group of misfits who suddenly look like they may have what it takes after all.
The entire cast performs with comic gusto, skillfully milking laughs from anything and everything. Standouts include co-writer Eldridge, Joseph Cranford as Joey, Elisabeth Dunson as band slut Brenda, Ross Foti as the overzealous Mr. Branford, and Cynthia Francesconi as Goth Girl. Director Eninger does a nice job whipping Band Geeks into a steady torrent of comic goofiness.
This is a show worth rooting for. I figure any show with a marching band version of "Mr. Roboto" has breakout potential.