In their program notes, writers Marc Ellis and Michael Lange state they attended their 45th High School Reunion a few years ago. They say their experience was “eye opening” and after months of mulling it over they said “We need to write something about that.” Musical Theatre Aficionados who see the resultant Reunion, receiving its World Premiere at the NoHo Arts Center, will wish they had not. Ellis wrote the music and, along with Lange and David M. Matthews, co-wrote the book & lyrics. From their program bios, this seems to be the first theatre writing by these veteran TV writers. The first thing they should have invested in was a rhyming dictionary. No amount of mumbling or mispronunciation will ever get Latino to rhyme with Toledo. That is just one of the many egregious rhymes assaulting the eardrums throughout the show’s 23 songs. This manly trio seems to have body issues, particularly issues with the size of their manly parts. The dialogue is ripe with repeated unfunny jokes about penises and there are two songs, “Another Notch On My Gun” and “Snap It” that deal with their sexual prowess. When the women get to respond, it’s only to reach for another glass of “Chardonnay.” Talk about flaccid response.
Ellis’ music is heard on tracks and all 23 songs sound alike with the same insistent percussive beat. The music is not overly loud yet the cast all sport head mics in the intimate confines of the theatre and at most times their voices sound disembodied.There is talent on the stage—Broadway’s Sharon Catherine Brown and Southern Cal musical theatre veteran Jeffrey Rockwell for starters–but they can’t spin gold out of this soggy straw, no matter how hard they try and they give it their all. The entire cast attempts to breathe life into their clichéd caricatures—the wealthy but slimy lawyer, the easy girl with the big bust and oral skills, the overachiever, the stud football hero–but they were given nothing to work with by the creators. Director Kay Cole attempts to give shape to the material and she does give the cast some varied dance steps, but she can’t work miracles.
The plot? Oh, right, it’s a high school reunion where the women talk about the men and the men talk about their penises. A former nerd (David Babich), now a grown up nerd, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a girl, Young Amelia (Ali Axelrad), he had a secret crush on in Glee Club when he was “Watching Her Breathe.” Yes, that is the title of the unrequited love song. Grown up Amelia (Kim Reed) faces daunting road blocks (literally the freeway is a parking lot and her GPS is on the fritz) on her way to the reunion, encouraged that someone she barely remembers from high school is waiting for her. She arrives, they see each other across the room, cue happy ending. I may be making the book sound less trite than it is.
The songs, besides being tuneless and filled with unrhymed verses, can also be extremely offensive. Besides the penis songs, there is the gay coming out song “Nobody Knew,” the unbelievable “African American Students” and the naughty girl valedictorian ditty “The Girl That Can’t Say No.” Let’s hope audiences can say “NO” to this mis-thought, misguided, mishegas.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. Ends Dec. 13. 323-960-7773 or www.plays411.com/reunion