Grant James Varjas in 33 to Nothing

(© Jaisen Crockett)
Grant James Varjas in 33 to Nothing
(© Jaisen Crockett)
33 to Nothing has one of the best rock scores I've encountered in musical theater, rivaling shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Spring Awakening. Written and composed by Grant James Varjas (with occasional musical assistance from fellow cast members John Good and Preston Clark) the well-scripted show is terrifically performed by its cast under the excellent direction of Randal Myler.

The musical play is set in a rehearsal room for a band led by singer/songwriter Gray (Varjas). His band mates include his ex-boyfriend/lead guitarist Bri (Clark), his best friend/rhythm guitarist Tyler (Good), Tyler's wife/bass player Alex (Amanda Gruss), and drummer Barry (Ken Forman). Like John Doyle's productions of Sweeney Todd and Company, all the actors play their own instruments, but here the songs are performed in the context of the rehearsal for the band's next gig.

Varjas' lyrics are superb, with clever phrases such as "He keeps his heart in the frozen food aisle / Not because he wants a cold heart / He just wants his heart to last a while" in the song "Happy Moral Suicide." The passion behind the words is clearly evident and it's revealed early on that Gray's songwriting is nakedly autobiographical, with many of his most recently penned tunes chronicling his break-up with Bri.

Needless to say, this causes a bit of friction. In regards to the song "Now That It's Over," Bri has insisted on singing some of the lyrics, saying he was "a little uncomfortable with how I came off in the song." Tyler then feels awkward singing backup, as he doesn't want to "ruin your little duet by making it a threesome."

The banter between songs reveals the tensions and shifting alliances amongst the band members. At the same time, it also demonstrates their easy camaraderie and genuine affection for one another. There's plenty of humor in the show, as the characters discuss gay front men, Barry's lack of a sense of irony, and who gets to pick out Tyler's shirts.

The cast makes for a well-honed ensemble. Varjas is utter perfection as the self-destructive Gray, inspiring both pity and disgust as he lashes out at his friends while also desperate to hang onto the love and security they provide him. Clark has a low-key but compelling presence as Bri, while Good's Tyler ably demonstrates his conflicted loyalties. Gruss walks a delicate line between bitchiness and justified anger, as Alex is the most openly confrontational with Gray. Forman's Barry provides the comic relief that breaks the tension at crucial moments.

33 to Nothing was previously presented last year starring the same cast, under Good's direction. The addition of Myler to the production team has made a significant difference, as both the dramatic and humorous sequences seem sharper and Good's performance in particular has grown now that he is no longer directing himself. Varjas has also tightened the script since its last time out, and provided a stronger ending that gives the work a greater sense of closure.