nytheatre.com review by Jason Jacobs
May 8, 2010
From the energy of the audience at The New Group's production of The Kid, there's no doubt that people—at least a certain population of New York men—are eagerly awaiting this newborn musical. Based on the book by popular sexuality pundit Dan Savage, the show is a musical odyssey through the process of adoption, seen in the context of the way we (or some of us) live now. Sex columnist Dan and his younger partner Terry want a kid; like a growing portion of the U.S. gay population, Dan's parental yearnings come from shifting priorities and a maturity that brings questions of legacy to the foreground. After initial acceptance by an agency that specializes in open adoption, Dan and Terry are warned it will not be an easy process. As they move through increasingly challenging steps, their journey shows that it is the most difficult experiences that make theatre, even musicals, most compelling.
With a breezy and entertaining book by Michael Zam, much of the first act of The Kid is an easy ride. We watch Dan (Christopher Sieber) and Terry (Lucas Steele) panic, bicker, and make up, while Dan's super-understanding mom Judy (Jill Eikenberry, lovely but underutilized here) and their friends provide support and advice. Andy Monroe's pop-style tunes and Jack Lechner's literary lyrics frame our heroes as likeably quirky and familiar types—urbane, attractive, nice. Their posse of lesbian, gay, and straight friends are also awfully nice. At times, the attempt to have nice fun—as in the group disco number "Seize the Day," feels like these nice folks are trying a bit too hard. There's even a song called "Nice" that points at the difficulty of a modern gay couple trying to maintain appearances for their adoption agent, Anne. It's a relief to learn that frosty Anne (Susan Blackwell) is not particularly nice. She is not looking for nice but for honesty. Later in the act, when she calls the couple to calmly announce they've been chosen by a prospective parent, she makes what could be a celebration into a cold wake-up call, and the show transforms into something more honest and original than we've seen so far.
Audiences familiar with Dan Savage through his TV appearances (he's been a guest on Bill Maher's show) may be surprised to see "Dan" the stage character as embodied by Sieber, a husky, lumbering hulk whose face is constantly wrinkled by a worried scowl. The onstage "Dan" persona lacks the confidence and charm of his real-life inspiration; he comes across as a well-meaning curmudgeon who routinely dispenses advice to strangers while struggling to keep afloat in his own relationship and family life. With every move, Sieber communicates Dan's fear and doubt about the adoption process and his own potential as a parent. As his boyfriend (not partner, not lover, not husband!) Terry, Steele is a polished and shiny trophy boy. He is the wide-eyed, open-hearted foil to Dan; no surprise that Terry will tearfully break into his song "Beautiful" upon first look at the newborn baby, while stony Dan will take until the final moments of the show to forge his bond with their kid.
Dan and Terry become more interesting protagonists when their joy turns to confusion after learning that the homeless teenager who has chosen them (after being refused by other couples) has been drinking and using drugs throughout the pregnancy. When they travel to Portland to meet smelly, dirty, inarticulate Melissa (Jeanine Frumess in a standout performance), the show moves into territory that is much less comfortable and more challenging. From the first sorry sight of Melissa, we sense that things are about to get difficult. Frumess slouches, grunts, and repeats her standard "I dunno" reply with a detached affect and deadened expression, leaving Dan, the man with an answer for everything, unable to communicate. The relationship between the affluent guppies and this homeless teen is fraught with suspicion and mutual misunderstanding. Monroe's music comes into focus in the songs for Melissa and her boyfriend, Bacchus. Melissa's spare folk ballad "Spare Changin'" offers an unapologetic portrait of life on the streets. When Bacchus (a doe-eyed but filthy Michael Wartella) arrives unexpectedly at Dan's home and sings about his desire to take control of his life (and his child), the moment is both touching and troubling. The rocky road to acceptance and adoption provide the show's most compelling moments, but (SPOILER ALERT NOW!) the guys do get their kid and there are plenty of teary, mostly well-earned feel-good moments for all.
The production, helmed by Scott Elliott, with musical staging by Josh Prince on a set designed by Derek McLane, feels caught between opposing impulses of intimacy and flash. All multiple settings are played upon one set—a cartoon version of Dan's hip Seattle apartment; boxy mid-century modern furniture is used to suggest various locales, and video screens embedded in the windows allow animator Jeff Scher and video designer Aron Deyo to constantly change the view. But what could be a charming chamber show is overpowered by its own desire to be BIG! There really aren't enough supporting roles to make all members of the outstanding ensemble (Kevin Anthony, Ann Harada, Tyler Maynard, Brooke Sunny Moriber, and Justin Patterson) feel necessary, and when everyone is onstage, the apartment feels quite crowded. More problematic for me is the choice to put everyone on microphone for dialogue as well as songs. This seems to have become a necessary evil for large Broadway houses, but in a theatre as intimate as the Acorn (only nine rows from the back row to the stage), the disconnect between bodies and amplified voices creates jarring distance in a show that should be about connection. That opined, I won't throw out the baby with the bathwater—there is plenty to like about The Kid, and I predict plenty of people will be eager to adopt this show with open arms.