An irritating offshoot of the digital revolution is that it’s democratized the filmmaking process, opening the floodgates for kids straight out of school with no life experience and no stories to tell to start making navel-gazing movies. Beyond the small-time local level or the ubiquitous solo show, theater is mostly spared that indignity because it costs more, requires more collaborators and demands an audience. But occasionally, one such immature self-indulgence slips through, such as “Glory Days,” which slipped all the way through to Broadway.
Penned by novice composer-lyricist Nick Blaemire and book writer James Gardiner, both in their early 20s, this earnest but insipid pop musical concerns four high school buddies reunited what seems like minutes after graduation to discover that the bonds of their friendship have begun to dissolve. It’s the kind of story that, with better writing, might have made a poignant single-episode arc on “Freaks and Geeks,” but even then requiring a second-tier supporting thread.
Given a modest production at Virginia’s Signature Theater earlier this year, the show received encouraging reviews from D.C. critics, but nobody appeared to be saying this larva was ready for mainstream metamorphosis. The producers have done an extreme disservice to the inexperienced creative team by shoving them into the spotlight with what’s likely to be a commercial embarrassment.
While it doesn’t have much spark, the show will probably hold some charm for anyone still immersed in the adolescent experience and could find admirers in youth theater or school productions. But high-stakes Broadway is a cruel stepping-stone.
Following “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” into the Circle in the Square was another bad idea. Aside from passing similarities in Blaemire’s tunes to the music of William Finn, “Glory Days” also purports to be about the awkward outsiders and unathletic kids shut out of the popular cliques. While “Spelling Bee” offered tender insights into that stigmatized condition and the means to survive it, this show barely skims the surface.
In addition to Finn, Blaemire and Gardiner appear heavily influenced by Jonathan Larson, down to the use of a central narrator much like filmmaker Mark in “Rent.” “I am the glue that holds us together/Observer, inventor and sole documenter,” sings aspiring writer Will (Steven Booth) about the friends who are the subject of his story.
Will is the sensitive guy, Skip (Adam Halpin) is the military brat who rebelled into mellowness, Andy (Andrew C. Hall) is the obnoxious failed jock, and Jack (Jesse JP Johnson) is the quiet, undersized bully magnet. No prizes for guessing which one will be coming out one or two songs from now. Or which one will take the news badly.
The slender conflict stems mainly from the quest to locate a key to the sprinkler system, allowing the guys to set it off during the first annual alumni football game and get revenge on the players who made their lives hell in high school. And then there’s Jack’s revelation in “Open Road,” a disclosure that sends waves of trauma through the group. But the whimpering drama is neither satisfyingly explored nor resolved.
Jack’s song is one of the better efforts among Blaemire’s generic, talky numbers, largely because something has actually happened to him since school that’s worth singing about. Elsewhere, the awkwardly inarticulate lyrics just string together platitudes about formative memories, bonding experiences, feeling at home and fearing change, but it’s nostalgia without the wisdom of hindsight.
The songs with a message to impart are worse, however, notably “Other Human Beings,” in which Jack responds to a harsh slur: “There are certain things/You never do to other human beings/That no one needs to learn/Cuz it’s part of who we are.” Huh?
Anonymously directed by Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer, the show is staged on a minimal set of bleachers backed by a wall of football field lights.
“Glory Days” attempts to mythologize high school into a mystical place and a time of innocent, uncomplicated pleasures for four kids now standing nervously on the cusp of adulthood — which might have worked if a couple of Breakfast Clubbers, Romy and Michelle or even those adorable eunuchs of “High School Musical” had been around to provide depth, humor or fun. But while the interchangeable cast members are affable, not untalented performers, they are out of their depth trying to stamp a personality on this one-dimensional material.