[Victoria Fringe Festival ’15] Band Geeks or Band Gleeks? A Review

logo_200x200_000406VENUE:
Copeland Lecture Theatre
St. Michael’s University School
3400 Richmond Rd.

SHOWTIMES:
Sept 5 | 2:00 pm
Sept 5 | 7:00 pm

DURATION:
90 minutes

E: The St. Michaels University School (SMUS) Summer Musical Theatre program never ceases to amaze me. They put on quality productions (school level of course) for the Victoria Fringe Festival and in the five years I’ve been going to see them, I find something that I’ve never seen (until now) unless I head to New York for Broadway or London for West End. This program has been around for at least ten years, if not more, and this year is unique as it introduces a show that I haven’t heard about before.

Band Geeks is an off-Broadway production written by Tommy Newman and Gordon Greenberg. Newman did Broadway productions such as The Single Girls Guide and Tinyard Hill while Greenberg is more noted for producing Disney’s Believe and appearing in a production of Grease.

J: This musical is even unknown to me. This story is about a group of high school students, the Beavers marching band, who are still invisible to their peers even when they are the most visible on the football field. Lead by nerdy tuba player Elliott (Duke Currah), his bubble world of playing a new composition to the public while admiring baton twirler Nicole (Alana Hawes) from afar is popped by bad boy and fallen football star Jake (Ryan Totz). He unwittingly puts a kink into Elliott’s plans. Meanwhile, Elliott’s buddy, Laura (Jordan Kerr) has her own flame she’s burning for Elliott. When it comes to love, Laura is the ultimate band geek, invisible even to Elliott.

Eliott IMG_3394E: All these high school stereotypes are certainly played up for laughs. Director Cam Culham did a great job at getting the cast to play that up with Star Wars, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy references. From the Goth Girl to Slavic Foreign Exchange Student, no one is missed. Not even the gay boy gets a nod. Was I watching Glee?

There were times I wondered if this show would venture into Shake it Up territory with proper dance numbers but it didn’t. This musical owes a larger debt to the Fox show than any film adaptation of a musical, even though I detected hints of Hairspray and Grease when concerning how high school life is depicted.

J: Stereotypes represent multiple personalities from high school blown up to such proportions that we can’t deny those we knew in our youth. And for me I could see some of those people on stage. But the problem is you can take all of those personalities and drop them into almost any background. And when I say almost, these characters still wouldn’t work as members for any of St. Michael’s own sports teams. Being band geeks suits them just fine, especially the outcast Jake who has fallen off the popularity radar of the high school athletics only to find new popularity amongst the academics.

E: In the program that SMUS runs, just who enrolls in the program doesn’t necessarily get cast into the roles that they are hoping for. That said, there were some perfect pairings being made for the key roles. The impish Currah, perky Hawes, studly Totz and innocent Kerr worked in the Friday night performance. They will alternate into other characters for the weekend shows and I may return to see what they play.

Additionally, Laura Williams plays the band’s coach, Millicent Hornsley, and she’s an example of being cast strictly for the role and I liked how she commanded the stage. Even Molly Robson had fun in her role as the high-strung school principal, where a subplot (new in this SMUS adaptation) about her daughter Sarafina (Erin Thorson) looking to get along is explored.

BUS IMG_3442

J: And what performances! I was smitten by the musical numbers “The Back of the Bus,” “Lost In the Brass,” “One Look at You” and “My Twirling Girl” (I’m going by the refrain of the song than its actual title). Laura Williams impressed me with her vocals. I’ve heard her sing before in past productions (Young Frankenstein and Avenue Q) and her vocal talent is improving! She has a soulful voice that I’d compare to folk singer Tracy Chapman. Amber Ikle (Natalia) shared the last half of a song with Williams but Ikle seemed almost un-assured of her voice and withdrew to the point where she was barely heard — a shame really. “The Back of the Bus” was the best  number for the production because the cast’s vocal strength was felt most. The message in the lyrics was most poignant. There are times you wonder if you can be someplace better in life even if it’s just your seating position on a school bus.

Laura IMG_3408

E: I’m wondering if some of what James saw is hitting home closer than he realizes? On a grander scale, I had to wonder about the compositional skills of the original playwrights when the number, “Roll in the Hay” in Young Frankenstein mirrored the bus song. I like musicals that break away from the norm than to follow a pattern I’m noticing more since I watch everything I can find. In Evil Dead, the Musical even that gang gets a number to sing along to while in a vehicle.

Thankfully one structure I’m not tired of is when the show has plenty of character driven numbers to give each talent a moment to shine. I particularly enjoyed “Lost in the Brass” myself where Laura (the character) really got to express herself.

J: And it is not just the songs that were memorable, the play itself has a lot of great one-liners some that will make people my age laugh but feel the sharpness of the wit as it pokes fun at your youth, like where Molly uttered, “Maybe we should just quietly disappear like acid wash jeans.”

Another line I laughed at was when the principal yelled, “Rip their heads off! You were born winners so play like winners!” to which Molly replied “And that’s why God created therapy.”

E: I was looking around wondering if Arnold Schwarzenegger, the king of classic one-liners, would enter the building. They were funny, and I chuckled. I was half expecting more musical puns and nerdy delights to underscore the nature of what this musical is about. It is called Band Geeks for a reason. Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect in a show that I haven’t heard of before.

SMUS-10yrjpg

I was told that Band Geeks is one of the more obscure shows that SMUS’ producers decided to bring into fruition this year. The show that they put on was enjoyable and despite flaws in the original product, I enjoyed how it was adapted to Canadian culture. It’s always a lot of fun to watch the next generation of entertainers / fringers grow up. Many recognizable faces, as James previously observed, were on stage.

J: You need a good cast to deliver the goods. They certainly delivered a fun time on the Friday night performance Ed and I went to. I thoroughly enjoyed how the character of Ms. Dixon came to life. She’d scare me if I was still a student — always brutally honest and always way hyperactive (She even carried around that coffee mug out onto the playing field late at night in her nightgown). Time to switch to decaf.

3½ Blokes out of 5

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