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Glory Days

This world premiere musical at Signature about four high school friends is raw and very real. logo
Andrew C. Call, Jesse JP Johnson, Adam Halpin,
and Steven Booth in Glory Days
(© Scott Suchman)
The story behind the world premiere of the musical Glory Days, now at Virginia's Signature Theatre, sounds like show-biz legend: Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner, a couple of 20-year-old kids from the Washington suburbs, collar Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer and demand he listen to one of their songs. He does, and he likes it. Dissolve to three years later, and this autobiographical, 90-minute pop-rock musical, directed by Schaeffer -- and with that song intact -- proves to be both raw and very real.

Taking place in real time on a May evening, Glory Days introduces us to four high school buddies seeing each other for the first time about a year after graduation. Social outcasts during high school, they banded together for mutual support and became as close as brothers. Now they are meeting on the school's football field, the scene of the defining rejection that provided their bond. But they have changed.

The music combines pop, rock, and strains of folk music into high-energy numbers, softer ballads, and several anthems, played by keyboard, electric guitar, bass, and drums. The score has a natural, almost unprocessed quality that fits these young men -- its very rawness holding its power. Schaeffer helped the duo develop their show, but he did not smooth away the rough edges of the music or refine the story to theatrical glibness. Indeed, some of the early songs are so crammed with exposition that the performers have to spit out words like bullets; later, there's more natural conversation in the lyrics. But the very awkwardness and lack of polish of the work aids the storytelling. We are brought into the reality of these four young men and can freshly see what has long seemed familiar to most of us older than college age.

While this is an ensemble piece, Steven Booth is nonetheless the first among equals as Will, the introspective writer who guides us into the story. Adam Halpin is Skip, the military brat who is coming into his own while away at school. Andrew C. Call plays Andy, seemingly out of place in the group with his brash swagger. And Jesse JP Johnson is Jack, who has gone through a change that serves as a catalyst to bring down the foundations of the foursome's friendship.

Schaeffer keeps the cast moving at breakneck pace, constantly moving about James Kronzer's minimalist set of an aluminum grandstand, backed by a wall of lights. By the time they get to the fourth song, "Right Here," they have coalesced into a very tight ensemble. "Right Here" leads to the revealing of secrets in the prettiest song of the show, the gentle "Open Road," sung by Johnson, who has the mellowest voice. Another stand-out tune, "The Good Old Glory Type Days," combines several musical themes, culminating in a compelling anthem sung by the company.

But the most memorable moment in the musical is "Other Human Beings," performed by Call and Johnson. Dynamic and loud, this song allows Blaemire and Gardiner to let out the almost primal pain that accompanies change. When it ends, there is no applause, just a murmur from the audience and then dead silence. That is a rare tribute acknowledging that something very potent has just been unleashed, and one more reason that Glory Days is worth seeing.

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