You can lead a Broadway audience to Rice Krispies Treats, but you can’ t make them swallow the musical. That’s one takeaway from the dispiriting Gettin’ the Band Back Together, at the Belasco Theatre, where those chewy snacks not only appear in this third-rate production about second chances, but get handed out to theatergoers at intermission. That’s not really generosity, people. It’s palm-greasing. So take the freebies with a grain of salt.
And do likewise with a scripted preshow warm-up, delivered by lead producer Ken Davenport at my performance, in which the show is described as “totally original.” Yes. And no. It’s not based on preexisting material. But the plot is more derivative than a calculus textbook.
It also raises more than a faint whiff of School of Rock, about a guy who reboots his life through the power of rock. Wall Street investment banker Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis) follows the same path, after he’s fired on his 40th birthday. He’s forced to bunk with his mom, kind and cougar-y Sharon (Marilu Henner, of Taxi and Chicago), back in Sayreville, New Jersey. That town is credited as one of the musical’s jillion producers. Fitting, since the production directed by John Rando (Urinetown) recalls community theater as it follows Mitch, who dreamed of being the next Bon Jovi, as he charts the next half of his life.
On the plus side, Mitch reconnects with ex-girlfriend Dani Franco (Kelli Barrett), now a single mom and a waitress. On the downside, Mitch reunites with his archenemy Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams). A buff blowhard (note the surname), he’s nursed a grudge for 20 years because his group, Mouthfeel, got creamed in a battle of the bands by Mitch’s group, Juggernaut.
Tygen has spent those two decades buying local real estate, including chez Sharon. A rock rematch is the only way to save the Papadopoulos family home. Cue the title song and clichés as Mitch rounds up old pals: Bart (Jay Klaitz), a perennial middle-schooler who teaches math; sad sack Sully Sullivan (Paul Whitty), a cop who’d rather walk a different career beat; and Rummesh “Robbie” Patel (Manu Narayan), a dermatologist who can’t get a date. Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes), a teenaged Vanilla Ice clone, rounds out the players, since one member went to an early grave.
Characters, similar to the scenery, are like cardboard. Men are given one trait apiece. The women barely get that. Still, Jarvis, whose slightly nasal singing style evokes Hunter Foster, and the appealing Barrett, rock steady.
When all is said and sung, a musical rises and falls on the tunes. Pop-rock ditties by Mark Allen are bouncy but indistinct. A fun standout is a jingle Tygen wrote for a gum ad, inspired by his band’s name. The perky pastiche asks, “How Does Your Mouthfeel?” As for how you’ll feel watching Gettin’ the Band Back Together, be prepared to grit your teeth.