Scanning channels on a Saturday morning, you might come across a scary bunch of young adults in brightly colored clothing, singing with strained enthusiasm a comic song — about drugs or politics or some other aspect of contemporary life — whose witlessness leaves you wondering just what preteen would prefer this spectacle to “Scooby Doo.” You marvel for a moment, click and move happily on to the Food Channel.
Such is the unhappy image brought to mind by “A Good Swift Kick,” an Off Broadway revue of songs by John Forster that might generously be called innocuous. Even on tiptoe, this wan bunch of tunes would have a long reach to qualify as satire. The subjects range from the topical (political action committees, Internet sex) and the once-topical (gays in the military, Paul Simon’s African period) to the usual man-woman woes, and while Forster’s music is generally pleasant and reassuringly familiar pop, his lyrics and ideas are entirely jejune. And occasionally illiterate: one song begins “In circa 1970…”
That gays-in-the-military song, which unwisely opens the show on a passe note , is chockful of silly and insulting limp-wrist jokes — “Hide the Japanese sarong/Can the Judy Garland song” — accentuated by Murphy Cross’ drill-team choreography. Likewise, Forster’s ideas on race seem to have been picked up from Hollywood movies of several decades ago. The Chinese, French and Germans are depicted in pure stereotypes and ludicrous accents, although Elisa Surmont is amusingly severe as a fraulein dreaming of a greater Germany in “Whole.”
Indeed the five performers give this thin material their desperately energetic all. Jim Newman dances with athletic finesse in the pop-rock cybersex song “Virtual Vivian,” his exuberance serving to distract from the predictable lyrics. Wanda Houston’s soulful delivery gives some sassy wit to “Codependent,” perhaps Forster’s most successful selection, which cleverly reimagines the torch standard for our enabling age.
David Naughton occasionally betrays a look of dazed disengagement (“What am I doing here?”), but he can hardly be blamed. To him falls the evening’s nadir, an entire song built around the sniggering double entendre suggested by the road sign “Entering Marion” — something straight out of “Beavis and Butt-head.”
And yet “A Good Swift Kick” isn’t even naughty enough to shock your average 8 -year-old. Nor, alas, is it sufficiently accomplished to return any luster to the now-tarnished name of wholesomeness.