By Karen Isaacs
What is it with musicals about teenage boys?
With Dear Evan Hansen garnering rave reviews first Off-Broadway and now on Broadway, a new musical about a teenage boy has opened at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theater.
Kid Victory is the latest collaboration between John Kander and Greg Pierce. Previously the Vineyard had produced The Landing, their first collaboration: three one-act musicals.
After a career working mainly with Fred Ebb, Kander has taken a new partner and in addition to the two already produced shows, they are working on two more.
Kid Victory is about Luke, a teen in a small town in Kansas, living in what is obviously a conservative Christian household; the mother refers to their church as “the fellowship.”
In a brief introductory scene, we see Luke shackled in a basement; then we are in the family home. Mom (Karen Ziemba) is hovering and has invited members of the fellowship to welcome Luke “home.” Luke however wants no part of it. He is obviously uncomfortable even in the family surroundings and by the thought of interacting with others.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn what has happened. Luke was missing for almost a year, abducted by a man he met through an internet game site devoted to yacht racing. His screen name was Kid Victory.
Mom wants to pretend that nothing has happened when “he was away” – which Luke rightly points out sounds as if he were on an extended vacation. She wants life to go back to normal; that he should immediately resume high school, go back to “the fellowship” and resume his friendship with Suze. She doesn’t recognize that he has become a different person. His dad seems to alternate between silently looking concerned and assuring his wife that all will be OK but to back off.
Instead of returning to school for the remainder of the year, he gets a job at a local, small garden shop (Wicker Witch of the North) run by the town eccentric.
uring the course of the one-act musical which runs about 110 minutes, we learn more about Michael, his abductor, who was a history teacher and about their life together. As in many such situations, it varied unpredictably between kindness, affection and abuse.
I found a lot to like in this show.
Let’s start with the music. Kander has not lost his touch; this show is filled with songs that reflect the range of emotions and situations. The lyrics by Pierce help us know the characters. I’d love a recording of the show.
Then we can look to the cast. Brandon Flynn is terrific as the teenage Luke. He projects the nervous energy, the lack of ease that Luke finds back home and the emotions. His feelings about Michael are conflicted. He is ill-at-ease except when working at the garden shop with Emily.
It seems as though the adults are all letting him down; he feels his father can’t look him in the eye; his mother denies the past; Michael both helped and hurt him; the police detective accuses him of withholding information, and even Emily who has been so supportive ultimately disappoints him.
Jeffry Denman is outstanding as Michael, the abductor. He switches from friendly to threatening in a second. Denman’s performance blends the two, so that you are constantly off-balance.
As the mother, Karen Ziemba is so good you want to shake her; to tell her to back off and give her son room and time to readjust to life at home. The moment late in the play when Luke tells her and his father of visiting the home, is chilling as you see her reaction.
But the rest of the cast is equally good: Daniel Jenkins as the father who has more understanding and sympathy than he seems at first and Joe Blum, Ann Arvia and Blake Zolfo as play the members of the fellowship and other characters
Liesl Tommy has directed the show with a sure hand, never over-doing either the terror or the pathos. Christopher Windom has choreographed the show. Clifford Ramos has managed to combine all the settings – the shop, the basement and the home in a seamless whole, though never letting you forget about the basement.
Kid Victory is a musical that should have a life after the Vineyard Theatre. I walked out moved, disturbed and yet strangely optimistic.
I’ll await the next developments of this show; and look forward to hearing the score again.
Kid Victory is at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street through March 19. Tickets are available at Ovation Tix.