'Glory Days' Graduates Too Soon To Broadway

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

NEW YORK -- Somebody was in an awful hurry to get "Glory Days" to Broadway, and in the end, hyper-acceleration may not have been the optimal speed for the move up I-95.

This vivacious little portrait of late-adolescent growing pains -- and "little" is the operative word here -- received a joyful birthing in January at Signature Theatre in Arlington, where a 23-year-old songwriter, Nick Blaemire, and an equally youthful librettist, James Gardiner, had an opportunity to gauge their handiwork and figure out how it might be improved.

For its efforts to evoke, in tangible and heartfelt ways, the insecurities of the bumpy passage boys make to manhood, the show deserved lots of encouragement. But as I also tried to point out in a supportive initial review, it also needed some further elucidation, especially in the transitions between songs, in the fleshing out of the relationships among the four young friends, back from their first year of college and reunited for a night of carousing (and recrimination) on their old high school football field.

It's unfortunate that an interim development phase has been skipped, because as an entrant in Broadway's intense seasonal bake-off, the "Glory Days" that opened last night at Circle in the Square feels a bit undercooked. The swaggering energy of the actors -- who are, as they were in Arlington, Steven Booth, Andrew C. Call, Adam Halpin and Jesse JP Johnson -- remains an asset. It's just that the piece doesn't create enough dramatic space for the tensions and resentments among the characters to build in a wholly integrated way.

From what can be gleaned in a second visit, "Glory Days" has not been tweaked with any discernible impact since its Northern Virginia debut. Eric Schaeffer's production has been transferred intact to Circle in the Square Theatre, which has 620 seats, almost twice as many as Signature's main stage. It retains James Kronzer's agreeably unadorned set, dominated by a section of metal bleachers on which the actors cavort for much of the 85-minute show.

The characters -- friends who bonded in high school over an inability to make it in sports, or crack the "in" crowd -- have gathered on the field to wreak some halfhearted revenge on the school for the unfulfilled lives they led there. (One of the weaknesses of the narrative is that the scheme hatched by Booth's Will seems less reckless than lame.) Over the course of the evening, what's explored through music are the sexual and emotional changes the young men have gone through, and how these experiences create fissures among them, rather than understanding.

Blaemire's pop score is an appealing up-tempo survey of feelings that boys rarely feel comfortable articulating; the composer is at his best in musicalizing the corrosive falling apart of friendship, in songs such as "Other Human Beings," "The Thing About Andy" and, for the excellent Call, who plays the most misunderstood of the friends, "My Turn."

Younger audiences will find a good deal of thematic authenticity in the ideas expressed in "Glory Days," from the sense of entitlement to which many of their peers seem to cling, to the passive-aggressive bluster that passes among the friends as good-natured ribbing. And while I stand by my endorsement of the promise and talents of the creative team, the show at this point comes across as something less a musical than a song cycle about the disintegration of childhood ties.

* * *

A piece with another sort of Washington pedigree opened on Broadway last week, this one a worthy overview of a distinguished American life. In George Stevens Jr.'s "Thurgood," the story of the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, is borne triumphantly at the Booth Theatre on the shoulders of a highly entertaining Laurence Fishburne.

Stevens's workmanlike one-man play has Marshall reflecting on the events of his remarkable career from the auditorium of his alma mater, Howard University Law School. As the fledgling playwright -- better known as the longtime producer of the Kennedy Center Honors gala -- informs us, Marshall is a kind of alter ego of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., using the courtroom to further the civil rights movement as skillfully as King used the streets. Marshall went before the Supreme Court to argue Brown v. Board of Education, the case that compelled the states to integrate public schools. As "Thurgood" relates, Marshall lived by a mentor's credo: that "a lawyer who is not a social engineer is a social parasite."

Fishburne, appearing a little less sleek than one is accustomed to, infuses a charming performance with layers of wit and mischievous self-awareness. His Marshall emerges as a fully three-dimensional hero, one who seems to savor telling stories on himself almost as much as he does striking blows against the forces of reaction and division. This actor's way with an anecdote leavens what might have turned into a night at the museum.

Director Leonard Foglia creates an atmosphere both charged and intimate. A huge, monochromatic Jasper Johns evocation of the Stars and Stripes looms over the stage; the flag is used at times as a screen for handsome documentary images from the periods Marshall describes.

The production over which Fishburne presides is an affecting platform for an appreciation of a remarkable American. Just before the house lights dimmed on the evening I attended, a distinguished-looking older man scurried down the aisle. The gentleman was none other than Sen. Ted Kennedy. No doubt others with a warm spot for those glory days will be rushing to "Thurgood," too.

Glory Days, music and lyrics by Nick Blaemire, book by James Gardiner. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Costumes, Sasha Ludwig-Siegel; lighting, Mark Lanks; sound, Peter Hylenski; musical director, Ethan Popp; orchestrations, Jesse Vargas. About 85 minutes. At Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, New York.

Thurgood, by George Stevens Jr. Directed by Leonard Foglia. Set, Allen Moyer; costumes, Jane Greenwood; lighting, Brian Nason; projections, Elaine J. McCarthy; sound, Ryan Rumery. About 1 hour 40 minutes. At Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., New York.

For both shows, call 800-432-7250 or visit http://www.telecharge.com.

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