Ryder Bach and Jason Hite in Girlfriend
(© Kevin Berne)
Ryder Bach and Jason Hite in Girlfriend
(© Kevin Berne)
The new musical Girlfriend, featuring music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet (from his album of the same name) and a book by Todd Almond has opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The production, directed by Les Waters and choreographed by Joe Goode, continues through May 9.

The show is woven around Sweet's love songs, and tells the boy meets boy romance of teenagers Will and Mike. The production features performers Ryder Bach and Jason Hite, who are accompanied by a live band featuring Shelley Doty (lead guitarist), ieela Grant (drummer), Jean DuSablon (bassist), and Julie Wolf (music director, rhythm guitarist, and keyboard player).

The design team includes David Zinn (scenic and costume designer), Japhy Weideman (lighting designer), and Jake Rodriguez (sound designer).

In evaluating the show, critics have found much to praise in the transference of Sweet's songs from disc to stag as well as the work of Bach and Hite.

Among the reviews are:

San Francisco Chronicle
Theater review: A sweet Girlfriend
"Throbbing teen hormones burst through the power-guitar chords and yearning anticipation trembles in the lyrics of Matthew Sweet's songs. The flayed-skin raw nerves of adolescent insecurity and the awkwardness of first romance inform every glance, gesture and warbled note in the performances of Ryder Bach and Jason Hite."

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"Almond individualizes the characters by enticing degrees, but stops short of making them more than generic plot vehicles. A happy ending is hastily trumped up, though disappointment is offset by a joyously rendered "I Wanted to Tell You." As buoyant as the songs are, "Girlfriend" still seems groping toward its full definition. But even at this point, it's pretty sweet."

San Francisco Weekly
Theater Review: Girlfriend (Based on Matthew Sweet LP) at the Berkeley Rep
"The play's second act falters. After Will and Mike get together, the story loses something. The question of whether Mike will come out of the closet just isn't as compelling as the will-they-kiss tension of the first act. Mike winds up leaving for college after apparently saying goodbye to Will forever.

"Of course, it isn't forever. The story has a happy ending. I'm fine with happy endings (no pun intended), but Waters and writer Todd Almond move too quickly, not letting us see the characters suffer the pain of breaking up with someone. As a result, the reconciliation at the end feels forced and false."

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"As Will, Ryder Bach has a warm stage presence; you instantly like him as soon as he walks on the stage and says, "Happy New Year." As a singer, though, Bach lacks confidence in his voice and it hurts a couple of the songs. Hite, on the other hand, is a marvelous vocalist; he should try out for Glee."

San Jose Mercury-News
Theater review: World premiere of Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend at Berkeley Rep
"Thoughtfully directed by Les Waters, "Girlfriend" is actually a simple, old-fashioned love story that happens to be about two boys falling for each other in the heartland. It's a delicate gem of a musical that's genuinely, well, sweet, if a tad uneventful. A stark counterpoint to the edginess and cynicism of the world as we know it, "Girlfriend" doesn't do irony. But it does toy with stereotypes about gender and sexuality as this endearing same-sex romance unfolds."

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"Plus, Hite has an angelic voice to go with his boy-band good looks. Bach, for his part, laces every bit of self-deprecatory babble with equal parts wryness and mortifying shyness. And both Hite and Bach are as cute as they can be in their quivering bouts of flirtation."

For more information, visit berkeleyrep.org.