In the end, ART’s ‘Burn All Night’ doesn’t deliver
CAMBRIDGE – “Burn All Night” never catches fire.
At a recent performance, I kept waiting and hoping THAT SONG or THAT MOMENT might come along and light up the new musical now being presented at Club Oberon, the second stage of the American Repertory Theater.
Oberon’s flexible space, for this production, doubles as a NYC night club/dance club setting, with the majority of the audience right in the middle of the action,
Andy Mientus (NBC’s “Smash”) wrote the book and lyrics with the music by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta and Brett Moses of the Beooklyn-based band Teen Commandments.
Despite the best efforts of a company that is all in on the vision of its creators, the sense of urgency expected with 20-something’s on the edge because of events that could signal the end of the world never appears.
“Burn All Night” chronicles the relationship between a woman and three of the males in her life, taking place in New York City in the present day.
The four principals all hold their own but in this corner the vocal and acting standout was Lincoln Clauss as Bobby, a recent college grad from Pittsburgh who heads to NYC on a whim, without anyplace to stay until a chance encounter with a female middle school friend. The book by Mientus is largely drawn from his own experiences after moving to New York.
Ken Clark is the bearded, discouraged musician Zak, whose minor hit put him on the musical map but hasn’t provided a road map for breaking out of the Brooklyn bar scene where he plies his trade. Perry Sherman is Will, a silver spoon type whose famous father has passed away but left plenty behind to take care of him.
All three men are in disparate places personally and professionally, and that affects their also very disparate relationships with Holly (Krystina Alabado), who like her male friends is toting around some serious baggage.
To try and ameliorate the Old White Guy perspective this reviewer brought to the table, I enlisted the aid of my 31-year-old daughter Tory to get a second opinion about the show.
She agreed that the company’s energy and enthusiasm do lift the show, but the biggest problem is that the musical numbers just seem to bleed together, and neither Tory or I left the 100-minute production thinking that any one of them would be remembered for very long by anyone seeing the show.
There are some impressive sound effects conveying earthquakes and aftershocks meant to portend an impending apocalypse. There are extensive power outages and – egads! – even the loss of cell towers, a particularly dramatic event in this Always Connected Age.
The company’s not at fault here. I can’t think of a number that could have been better sung or a dance number by Tony-nominated choreographer Sam Pinkleton that wasn’t performed well by a seven -person ensemble identified in the program as “The Kids.” The dance numbers varied from tightly choreographed set pieces to freelancing by individuals who mixed with theater-goers on the floor of Oberon. On a recent night, a strong cadre of Baby Boomers mixed with Generation Xers and Millennials on the dance floor, at times joining the dance numbers.
Director Jenny Koons takes full advantage of the flexible space that is Oberon, The sense of being right in the action is heightened by her use of risers for two-person scenes that can move and pop up almost anywhere in the floor, again putting theater-goers front and center.
And while the charisma of the cast is never in doubt, the overall result is Mientus just skimming the outside veneer of his characters, and not revealing their innermost feelings.
The sense of impending doom coupled with the angst of just being 20-something and trying to find your footing never actually pays off, promising more than it can deliver.
The American Repertory Theater production of “Burn All Night.” Book and lyrics by Andy Mientus, Music by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta and Brett Moses. Directed by Jenny Koons. At Club Oberon through Oct. 8. Americanrepertorytheater.org.