Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Brotown Blues

Moving on after a traumatic event may not be easy. For some, the pain lives with you forever. For others, a simple distraction can help it go away. And even when times are tough and the pain still lingers, the bonds are friendship can alleviate the pain. In The Cobalteans, a group of friends reunite a year after the death of one of their own. With wounds still fresh, moving on and staying together is the key to closure.
With book and lyrics by Yianni Papadimos, music by Ben Chavez, and additional music by Andrew Bridges and Papadimos, The Cobalteans is an indie musical about friendship and growing up. A year after Gabe’s death, Davey, Gabe’s brother, reunites his brother’s friends to celebrate his brother’s life. As everyone arrives, truths are revealed, sores are reopened, and memories are brought back. The Cobalteans is a derivative musical with a story that is overdone. The piece begins with a prologue of sorts that is reminiscent of Spring Awakening with a driving contemporary song set to modern lyrical choreography. The song, which on its own is beautiful, sets the mood of the piece rather than progress it any way. And that is just a preview of what is to come. Papadimos’ book is a structural nightmare. The action Papadimos sets is extremely passive. He has characters recall events of the past involving their fallen friend that lead to flashbacks. These flashbacks don’t lead to any new revelations in the advancing scenes nor do they assist in character arcs. Believability is essential for strong characters. Papadimos employs a very heightened and intellectual way of speech for these frat boys, something that doesn't quite resinate. The other disappointing aspect The Cobalteans throws into the mix is the “Gabe Device.” Like an extremely successful NYMF show of yore that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, ironically or not using the same character name, ghostly Gabe was extremely hokey rather than sentimental. Gabe seems to meander around on stage rather than affect the living. He appears to be present more for seamless flashback transitions. Water seems to be a very important part of the script and mean something to Gabe. Poetically, had the death involved the water, it would have tied the entire piece together. With all the problems of the book, The Cobalteans does have something extremely strong going for it. And that’s the music by Ben Chavez, with a little help from his friends. A concert or an album of the show’s music would be satisfying. The music is sensational, with a captivating score and smart lyrics. Even though it tried so hard to be the next Spring Awakening, The Cobalteans had some winning numbers including the powerful “When I Scream.”
photo by Jackie Abbott
The youthful cast of The Cobalteans had such enjoyment on stage. The quintet brought life in a musical about death. The strongest and sincerest performance came from Nicholas McGovern. As the most pained Mike, McGovern’s breakdown was raw. As devastating as it was, it was a vibrant moment. As little bro Davey, PJ Adzima was the glue of the piece. Andrew Bridges had a sensational voice, a tone that fit greatly in the score. Aleks Knezevich as preppy Chris was grounded, something the others didn’t quite have. Alex Walton, perhaps due to his character, seemed to coast through his performance. The confidence was high but the chemistry was minimal.
Finding a way to activate the passive book was essential. Sadly, director Paul Stancato could not do this. Stancato’s vision was confused. His staging was static and over-calculated. Christopher Ash, who served as scenic, lighting, and projection designer seemed to have his hands full. Scenically, Ash placed posts around the stage that blended into the wings. While he offered some beautiful lighting moments, the projections were purposeless and hokey.
The Cobalteans has a score that gives the piece great hope. But a dramaturg or script doctor are in order to give the book a much needed overhaul so the music can continue to fly.