"Pool Boy" places its struggling hero as a server at a swank L.A. hotel-- with mixed results.
A young artist in search of his voice, his muse and his purpose is an all-too familiar refrain. Preeming at Barrington Stage in the Massachusetts Berkshires, Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard’s tuner “Pool Boy” takes the template and places its struggling singer-songwriter hero as a server at a swank L.A. hotel, as he hustles mojitos and towels — as well as fame and fortune — with mixed results.
Under composer-artistic adviser William Finn, the summer musical lab has nurtured some real talent and promising shows (“Calvin Berger,” “The Burnt Part Boys”), but with “Pool Boy,” it’s hard to care about this central character and his maneuverings among the posh and privileged.
Yes, his blank slate of a life is part of his artistic problem (“I’m not sure you’ve got anything to say,” says a big-shot record producer). But it’s also a problem for the show, which needs much more work to get out of the shallow end of the pool.
Nick (Jay Armstrong Johnson) is Abercrombie & Fitch-cute and sings well, but this protagonist is not only uninteresting, he’s as unsympathetic as the self-involved people around him: an insecure record-producer and his sex-hungry wife (John Hickok and Sara Gettelfinger, both mining what little fun there is); a sultan’s son (Sorab Wadia) who treats everyone as his serf; and a hotel manager with ethnicity issues (Cliff Bemis).
The underclass is not much better represented by Nick’s pal Jack (Jon Norman Schneider), a sushi chef and aspiring actor; and romantic interest April (Cortney Wolfson), a personal assistant from Idaho. (Statehood is a principal form of character detail in the show. Being from New Jersey is Nick’s big signifier.) All the characters are struggling in some way with identity issues, an undeveloped notion lost amid Nick’s questionable pursuits.
From the show’s opening moments, Nick embraces the swank surroundings (nicely rendered by set designer Brian Prather) and covets the world of the rich and the celebrated, with little to show except his own alleged talent.
Tsakalakos’ tunes are serviceable-to-appealing, though his and Allard’s lyrics are less than deft and tend toward the crude. The exception is the show’s final song, the engaging “Poolside at the Hotel Bel-Air,” in which Nick recounts his time as a pool boy — something Tsakalakos was years ago and is clearly inspired by. It may be enough to fill a song, but still it’s not enough to fill a musical.