Kid Victory, the new musical that opened last week by Greg Pierce (book and lyrics) and John Kander (music) at the Vineyard Theatre, is not easy to watch. That’s not always a bad thing, but it makes for an uneven exploration of difficult subject matter that hits more dissonant chords than likely intended.
Luke (Brandon Flynn) has just returned home after a harrowing year during which Michael (Jeffrey Denman), a predator who lured the teen through the social networking component of an online game, held him captive. Now at home, Luke is trying to assimilate back to life in high school and at home with his religious and doting mother, Eileen (Karen Ziemba), and his patient but passive father, Joseph (Daniel Jenkins).
Luke struggles with flashbacks and feelings complicated by his own sexuality. He finds solace in Emily (Dee Roscioli), the owner of a local shop, Wicker Witch of the West. Meanwhile, his mother engages Gail (Ann Arvia), a member of her Baptist fellowship, for some amateur therapy, which only pushes Luke into further introspection.
Other characters weave their way in and out of the storyline. Detective Marks (Joel Blum) makes a brief tap-dancing appearance where he question’s Luke’s compliance; Andrew (Blake Zolfo) arrives for another tap-dancing number as an online hook-up that Luke arranges to meet in an abandoned house; and Suze (Laura Darrell, sans tap shoes), Luke’s casual girlfriend who is desperate to reconnect since his return.
Flynn, a recent college graduate from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, is tasked with carrying the emotional weight of Kid Victory, a pseudonym that his character has created for his online persona. It’s a sweet and vulnerable performance, and oddly non-musical: Luke is the only character that doesn’t sing. Perhaps it is to symbolize some kind of emotional barrier, but it the very thing that makes the musical art form so unique and this omission strips the character of his evolution. Instead, Pierce ends the show with Luke’s description of a creaky shutter outside of his basement prison that dissolves into a solo for his father. And in a final bit of tragically misplaced writing, we’re left with an image of Luke pantomiming a confession to his dad, only to be upstaged by Michael’s demise from the previous scene.
Kander’s score has a few melodic highlights, including the opening “Lord, Carry Me Home” and “People Like Us,” in which eccentric Emily extols what makes each of us unique. It’s juxtaposed to Luke’s admission of his time with Michael and it’s as though she never hears him, ending the song with an invitation to grab a burger. Other bits of the score harken back to Kander’s previous work, with the aforementioned tap sequences (choreographed by Christopher Windom) acting as a kind of social commentary.
Directory Liesl Tommy does little to bring cohesion to Kid Victory, which suffers from an identity crisis that rivals its lead character. The realistic basement set design by Peter Hylenski is a disturbing reminder of Luke’s traumatic experience. Regardless of the scene, the looming dinginess and entrapment overwhelm the action. I assume this is to mimic his mental torment, but its literal interpretation is often at odds with the narrative.
Though Flynn and Denman deliver complex, frightened (and frightening) characters, the rest of Kid Victory’s cast suffers under the heavy-handed material. And as a whole, no one wins.
108 East 15th Street, NYC
Through March 19