I hate it when I hate new musicals. It feels unfair, like something about the combination of the words “new” and “musical” should inspire automatic awe simply because new, original musicals are so rare. It seems a miracle that they even get written, never mind staged. They’re like babies, in a way. Their fully-formed selves belie their microscopic beginnings, making their very existence seem almost impossible. They make you wonder how the hell we all got here in the first place.
Which brings me to The Kid, Jack Lechner and Andy Monroe’s new musical that premiered at The New Group last night.
I wanted it to be good. I really did. I wanted it to be that one, brilliant, barrier-destroying, heir-to-Sondheim, Savior of the Modern Musical kind of shows. Because I want all new musicals to be that. And this really wasn’t. Which is a shame, because so many of its elements are good. There’s a strong leading man (Christopher Sieber), some fun familiar faces (Ann Harada, Susan Blackwell), literate source material (Writer Dan Savage’s memoir about adopting a child with his partner). But somehow, all of this awesome genetic data adds up to a rather funny-looking final product.
The story of Savage’s adoption drama is compelling: In the mid-nineties, Savage, a sex columnist, and his partner decided to adopt a child in an era when same-sex adoption was less common than it is today. We see the couple’s journey toward parenthood, and their struggle to figure out why they want to do it in the first place. The The show falters, however, in the way that it chooses to get there.
Part of the problem is the pastiche-y score, which strives squarely for the forgettable chasm between James Taylor and William Finn, and the lyrics don’t help much in terms of storytelling. During one song, Savage and his friends go out on an all-night bender to momentarily cast away the stress of the adoption process. (Of course, he wakes up with a massive hangover and tremendous insight about how his partying days are behind him.) This is the show’s big, uptempo party number, but it hardly works up to more than a mild prance. You won’t come away singing the melody because you won’t remember it.
The other issue is that the show takes its interesting source material and bludgeons it into a story that feels sappy and ordinary. Sieber is cute, and charmingly hammy, but never was there a less sexy sex columnist, and the baby’s homeless biological parents—especially the baby’s father, a character rather craptacularly named Bacchus—seem more like they just rolled out of the MT program at Carnegie Mellon than from under a bridge. There’s no real suspense in the story either, which hinges entirely on the question of whether Savage is going to get the baby. You know the answer from the moment the story begins—otherwise, why the hell are we all hanging around here for two hours?–and its resolution at the end is drippy and sentimental, complete with a straight-to-the-audience ballad done in a spotlight.
Of course, the big, sixty-something guy sitting next to me wept like a schoolgirl, so I guess this show is reaching someone. It rocked his world. My guess, though, is that it won’t exactly rock musical theater history. Except maybe to sleep.