All American Boy

One-dimensional characters, insipid lyrics, and cheesy over-miked pop tunes do not generally make for an enjoyable show, but All American Boy uses these things to such good effect that, soon enough, the audience is screaming like a pack of pre-adolescent N'Sync fans.

This new "boy band" musical is a hilarious look at the pop world -- the band members themselves, the girl divas, the self-proclaimed star makers, and the MTV circus that gives them all the fame they crave. The reason that this parody works so well is that it's not strictly parody; there is a story, albeit a thin one. Angel-faced Wyatt Wilson (Lucas Steele) is chosen by pop impresario Sven Galli to be the centerpiece of his new band, All American Boy. But guess what, girls? He's gay! Soon, he's caught in the act and betrayed by a fellow band member. When word gets to the press, Wyatt is kicked out of the group because he refuses to do the necessary "damage control" and pretend to be someone he's not. In the second act, the rest of the group begins to break apart and Wyatt becomes acquainted with the seedy underbelly of fame, performing on a trashy gay teen TV show to make ends meet until he gets his second chance for success.

The story is cute and -- until the last scene, which is too long and contrived -- the show is consistently funny and entertaining. But All American Boy flies mainly because lyricist-bookwriter James Edwin Parker and composer-director Thomas Caruso seem to know this world inside-out. Their jabs aren't the kind of sophomoric jokes you'd expect from a couple of regular, Backstreet Boy-hating Joes; Parker and Caruso have clearly spent a lot of time watching MTV, and they get what goes into "making the band."

Caruso and Parker are aided immensely by a talented cast. Don Mayo is a riot as manager Sven Galli and even funnier as Wyatt's grandmother; John Flynn delivers a closeted, Carson Daly-type VJ; and Kellie Overbey is fantastic as a Madonna-like pop princess and a pre-pubescent groupie. Steele is appropriately earnest and gooey as the central character, but the other guys get to have more fun parodying boy band members. Especially funny is Jim Holdridge as Christofo Gonzalez, who must affect a Cuban accent when Galli deems him the "ethnic" member of the group.

G & E Music (which provides perfect pop orchestrations), musical director/vocal arranger Linda Dowdell, and music supervisor Scott Cady have the boy band sound down pat. The non-threatening adolescent sexuality of the title song is later countered by the inane macho posing of "We Are Men," sung by the remnants of the group as they try to reinvent themselves. The funniest numbers are a publicity stunt duet between diva Jasmine James and Nathan Maxwell (the group's "sensitive" guy, played by Mark McDaniels) called "I Love You Like You Love Me," and the boys' self-penned ode to drunken one-night-stands, "Beer Goggles." Most of the songs are done "onstage" by the band, complete with spot-on choreography by Tootsie Olan; but Parker and Caruso ably use the songs for dramatic purposes, such as having the boys' sing "Goodbye" (reminiscent of N'Sync's hit "Bye Bye Bye") every time they fire someone from the group or having Wyatt deliver the schmaltzy "Standing Tall" as his defiant vow to pursue his dream.

All American Boy is hardly flawless. The aforementioned overlong ending seems almost unnecessary and there should be more development of the character Nathan Maxwell, who figures prominently into the plot. Also, on the night I saw the show, the performers' head mikes weren't always reliable. But these are minor problems in an otherwise clever and entertaining satire that the MTV Generation is sure to appreciate.

**********

Not Herself Lately

"Discover how much fun a musical can be if it leaves out the usual seven boring songs and keeps only the three good ones," reads the program to Not Herself Lately. "All Killer -- No Filler" is not a bad concept. And Neil Genzlinger's mini-musical delivers what it promises as we immediately discover that a serial killer is on the loose, leaving behind 12 dead bodies in only three months. The police captain (played by Genzlinger himself) is anxious to find the killer, lest his reputation be marred by so many unsolved crimes. At the latest crime scene, Arvie, a timid rookie cop, has found evidence that proves who the killer is but has difficulty convincing the oblivious captain. Meanwhile, the captain's wife is unhappy with society and desperate to get attention and respect from her husband.

A quick-paced murder mystery has the potential to be very exciting, but Not Herself Lately is more about the laughs than the plot, which gets weaker as the show progresses). It's a silly little comedy, though occasionally clever in unexpected ways. It would probably be funnier if the game cast did a better job of nailing the slapsticky sections of the script. Erin Carter comes close as the slightly mad wife, but her performance seems too forced at times. Emily Genzlinger was playing Arvie on the afternoon that I saw the show (Tim Nowak plays the part on 14, 17, and 21) and, while she got the young officer's nervousness across, she simply wasn't vocally or physically appropriate for the part. Genzlinger himself fared best as the straight man in this farce, amusingly accompanying himself and the other actors on several instruments in the show's three songs.

So, what about those three songs? They were good, indeed: Cute lyrics and nice tunes with no filler. Not Herself Lately is a charming, goofy 35-minute murder mystery.

**********

Him and Her

Paul Scott Goodman starts off with a good idea: In Him, an autobiographical one-hour, one-man musical, an aspiring composer from Scotland tells the story -- in speech and in song -- of the first few years of his relationship with his wife, up until the moment when their first child is born. Then we jump forward five years and, in the one-hour musical Her, we see the wife as she cares for her two young children and deals with separation from her husband, all the while trying to finish writing a play.

It's an interesting concept but it goes wrong in the telling. As he did in his equally problematic Off-Broadway musical Bright Lights, Big City, Goodman insists on supplying the narrative as he accompanies himself on guitar, here playing the "him" in Him. The fact that he's not a good singer is just part of the trouble; his songwriting is shaky, too. The beginnings of a catchy tune will sometimes arise but he never develops these into fully formed songs; there is no body to the numbers, and little craftsmanship. This lack of form is also seen in the plot; it's sometimes difficult to separate the storytelling from Goodman's inner monologue or, for that matter, from his strange tangents. (At one point, he's riding on the subway, then he's suddenly going on about his in-laws and the Holocaust.)

Goodman's lyrics are often clumsy. He is seemingly under the impression that a stream of rhymes constitutes a lyric -- never mind that many of his rhymes are false or dependent on misaccented syllables. There are also frequent points during the show when he simply includes lists of words for no other reason than to hear them read aloud. At times, Goodman succeeds in creating a certain energy and/or emotion with this tactic; but it's just plain annoying when, for instance, the wife meets her play's producer at a news bar and starts reading off the titles of the magazines on the wall. (Okay, this is meant to indicate that she's stalling, but does she have to do it twice?). And while Goodman's love affair with Manhattan is understandable, the endless barrage of New York place names -- streets, neighborhoods, hot spots, etc. -- is unwieldy.

What Goodman does have going for Him is his enthusiasm and his sense of humor (his father was a stand-up comedian back in the home country). The personal nature of Him makes many moments quite touching, and there's a uniqueness to Goodman's story that makes it intriguing; after all, how many Scottish Jews who came to Manhattan to become Broadway composers do you know? He's also fortunate to have the talented Liz Larsen playing Her, though that section of the work is actually the less interesting of the two; the daily grind of "Domestica," as Goodman terms it, is no less dull for us than it is for Her. In fact, the two halves that make up Him and Her don't really match in tone: his half is more of a musical monologue, hers is more like a slice of life. Yet they do dovetail nicely, creating a sort of panoramic view of a relationship.

Still, the fact remains that Goodman continues to show little discipline in the art of writing songs for the theater. The inspiration is there, but the skills are lacking.