Interviews

The Rise and Fall of Glory Days, as Told by Writers Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner

As Keen Company prepares a one-night concert of this historic Broadway musical that closed on opening night, its scribes relive their own glory days and examine its creation.

At 23 and 24, Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner were kids, practically. But when you’re a kid, you still think you can take on the world. And when you present a kid with a Golden Ticket, they’re obviously not going to turn it down.

With 16 years of hindsight, Blaemire and Gardiner look back on 2008 with a mix of pride and astonishment — a far cry from the embarrassment they felt that April when their musical Glory Days closed on Broadway on opening night.

The story of four friends who reunite after their freshman year of college only to discover how different they’ve become, Glory Days was loosely based on Blaemire’s own experiences. He wrote the first songs the summer after his freshman year at Michigan, and began collaborating with Gardiner, then a student at University of Maryland, to flesh out the story. They hooked up with director Eric Schaeffer, who was leading Signature Theatre in Washington, DC, at the time, after taking a master class with him at the Kennedy Center. Schaeffer eventually offered it a slot at Signature, where Glory Days not only lured a younger audience than the norm, but earned a rave review from Peter Marks in the Washington Post that turned it into a must-see hit.

But a small success in our nation’s capital doesn’t always equate to a hit in our nation’s theater capital, and Glory Days got the history-making hook after slim sales at the Circle in the Square Theatre and reviews that weren’t nearly as encouraging. Blaemire and Gardiner both see the red flags, in retrospect: early-career lead producers in John O’Boyle and Ricky Stevens, bad marketing, no stars, an impossible turnaround time. They knew the odds were against them going in. It still took years for them to get over it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Since then, Glory Days has become something of a staple on college campuses. It’s received productions as far away as Sydney and Japan. And now, Keen Company is giving Glory Days its official “second performance,” in a concert staging on February 12 directed by Jonathan Silverstein and starring Jordan Dobson, Derek Klena, Colton Ryan, and George Salazar.

Second chances don’t often happen. Blaemire, still a performer and musical-theater writer, and Gardiner, no longer a writer or performer, but the director of creative content and deputy director of marketing at Signature Theatre, are keenly aware of this. And that’s why they’re so excited to relive their own glory days, warts and all.

glory days
Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner at the opening night of Glory Days on Broadway in 2008 (left) and their most recent headshots (right)
(© Tristan Fuge/handout images)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Take me back. Was Broadway a goal from the get-go or did that happen because the reviews were good?
Nick Blaemire: It certainly was not the goal in DC. Getting the production in DC was beyond a college kid. We were able to bottle our raw ambition and lack of understanding of how everybody else tells stories, which meant we stumbled upon some original beats. It put [Washington Post critic] Peter Marks in a tricky position because he really did give us the review that we weren’t even asking for. Suddenly, there were producers in the lobby of Signature trying to figure out if there was money to be made here.

We got three offers: off-Broadway, the Old Globe, and a commercial Broadway production because Next to Normal wasn’t going to come in after their Second Stage run. But it’s a three-month turnaround and there’s no chance for presale. How would we make money doing that? We have no stars. It’s not a good business model. However, and I still kind of live like this, I’d rather do the hard thing than the easy pander. It had a very indie film vibe to me. Almost immediately, these logistical things were happening, and it was clear that it was not going to work.

Like what?
Nick: As an actor in Cry-Baby at the same time, I was seeing the way that a Broadway show runs on a logistical level, and we were nowhere near that kind of infrastructure. We had four days of rehearsal to come to Broadway. There was no money for things. From the general manager to the publicist to whatever, it was all, “Hey, can you squeeze this in?” No one’s gonna say no, but no one has the bandwidth. And I think they knew from the get-go that the show never quite fit in the Circle in the Square.

James Gardiner: It was a weird year on Broadway, too, because Passing Strange and In the Heights were happening, and I think the producers and the theater owners were willing to take the risk. I think they saw that it was the stuff that was a little off the beaten path that was doing well.

Cry Baby on Broadway
Nick Blaemire (kneeling right) in the Broadway production of Cry-Baby, which was running at the same time as Glory Days
(© Joan Marcus)

So, there were red flags to start out.
Nick: Truly, from the second we got the offer.

James: We didn’t know until the first rehearsal that we didn’t have the money. We were always behind where we needed to be, and that infiltrates what you’re doing. It doesn’t make it about making the product better, it makes it about “How are we gonna get to tomorrow?” I mean, I think the sheer fact that Nick raised a vast portion of the money was the first red flag. The writer of the show was the one making calls to get the funding.

I’m sorry, what?
Nick: We were in a unique position because everyone was so excited for us that there was an influx of support. I had just been at the University of Michigan, and all of the donors to the musical-theater department are like, “This kid is doing the thing, let’s help him.” I learned in that moment that I like those conversations. It’s a necessary component that I never realized. James and I never even considered that Signature was a fully funded run in DC. There was no part of the money that we were involved in. Suddenly, I’m in conversations with Jimmy Nederlander, with him being like, “I’ll give you this for that,” and I’m like, “There should be somebody else on this call.” We realized that we were all going to be learning, which was an ill-advised business decision, but I wouldn’t change it for the crash course I got.

James: As I’ve gotten older, I don’t fully fault the producers for that necessarily. I think they got into a situation with some investors who promised something and then backed out. There was one investor who said that they would fully fund the rest of it but the characters couldn’t be high school students coming out of their first year of college. They needed to be four-years removed because it just wasn’t believable that so much would change a year after graduation. We were talking to the producers and Nick goes, “It is believable, because it happened to me. This is my story.” I’m proud of us to this day that we stuck to our guns and said no. It also felt a little bit like the investor was trying to pull a power card and we weren’t going to play that game. It was stuff like that along the way that made it obvious that we were heading down a path that was not going to be the most fruitful.

Opening night rolls around. Do you know going into the performance that you’re one and done? Do you find out at the party? The morning after?
James
: I think we knew that we weren’t long for this earth. I think we thought we would get at least a week, not that the plug would be pulled the next day. We were having trouble funding an opening-night party. I remember the producers were like, “Oh, we’ll just do a toast in the lobby.” And one of the producers was basically like, “No, they deserve a party.”

Nick: They couldn’t even fill the space for opening. They told us we couldn’t have comps and then on the day of, they were like, “We need 40 people to fill these seats.” We went to the party and a buddy of mine from college pulled me aside with Ben Brantley’s review, and it was dismissive in the way that, like, there was respect in it. It was like, “Oh, you poor guys.” I woke up the next day and went to the University of Michigan student showcase, which they were closing with “Good Old Glory Type Days,” and in that room, you texted me that I had to come to the theater because there was a closing notice on the door. Did the cast find out online? Something like that. Brutal.

James: They were at the theater for the meeting and somebody who was a superfan was walking by the window and literally showed them the article on a BlackBerry. I got home that night and I read the Brantley review and I didn’t think it was mean or nasty or anything like that. Then I read Peter’s review in the Washington Post, and that one made me angry, because he was the one who had championed it.

Nick: Peter was put in a really challenging position because he didn’t mean to champion us to Broadway. He just wrote a good review of a show that he liked, and it got wrapped up in the zeitgeist machine. I think he had to protect himself, which did feel bad in the moment. When he retired at the end of last year, he did his list of favorite shows that he saw in DC, and he included Glory Days. “It bombed on Broadway, but I liked it, so sue me.” That explained to me the challenge of being a reviewer and having to say, “I do like this, but I can’t say that this production is worth spending $100 on.”

James: It’s funny, because I ended up becoming the publicist for Signature, and I’ve ended up having a pretty good relationship with Peter in the long run. At one point, I had to drive him to an interview, and we talked about it. It was interesting. Anyway, he’s amazing. When Dear Evan Hansen was making the transfer from Arena Stage to Broadway, he did a whole article about shows that had transferred from DC to New York, and there was a big side article specifically about Glory Days. He hadn’t known that after it ended in New York, it went to Japan, London, Sydney, and he wanted to write about it. He’s been able to say, “I wasn’t wrong.” 

glory days signature theatre
A scene from the Signature Theatre production of Glory Days, featuring the original cast
(© Scott Suchman)

Emotionally, when did it become bearable?
Nick: Six or seven years. James and I immediately got another commission and started doing that, but we were both totally fucked up from the previous experience. James didn’t know if he wanted to live in New York and deal with all the bullshit. I was like, “I do, and I must.” I held off from dealing with it for a while. It really was when my show A Little More Alive got funding that I did. I was in California, and I got the call saying we got all the money, and I didn’t have to do anything, and that gave me heart palpitations and I had to lay down. There was something about it that made me realize I had unfinished emotional baggage.

James: When Glory Days closed, all I did for a week was watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, until my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, was like, “Time to move on. There are more shows.” I carried a lot of it with me for a long time. Even when Nick and I were writing, there were things that hung over it. Things that even hung over our friendship. That’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted our friendship more than I wanted this. We’re beyond that point now, but at the time it was just too hard of a hurdle to climb over.

Glory Days is a great fit for Keen Company, which revives shows that are small and rarely seen.
James: Jonny Silverstein has said that he’s drawn to shows that wear their hearts on their sleeve, and that’s Glory Days.

Nick: He picks stuff that no one else is amplifying, because he thinks it should be amplified. He didn’t want to do a reunion concert. He didn’t want to connect it to the lore of the original production. We have great actors who are examining it without any legacy agenda on it, which wakes up the words. It’s a show about the toxicity of male friendships as much as it is the beauty of male friendships, and the imperfections of what it’s like to be male in America pre-2008. The fulcrum of leaving childhood and going into adulthood is always going to be true. It’s just going to mean a different thing in 2024 than it did in 2008. Jonny has a scalpel-like precision, and he’s saying, “Let’s do nothing to it and just interpret it and see if there’s anything emotionally true.” 

This whole experience of watching new people do it must be a huge trip.
Nick: Oh, my God. It continues to be. Anytime anyone’s like “I’m singing a song from it” or “I’m doing it at my college,” it becomes the dream we had at the time, which was just to make something that our friends could do on their campuses and not have to be held back by finances. Everything else that happened, in so many ways, was the best advertising a tiny show could get. I didn’t see that at the time. I did feel like we’d failed on some level. But this has just been the best advocacy to make things, whether they get the good review, whether you become a hit out of the gate. The fact that this show existed allowed it to do this other thing that was beyond us.