BUBS A One Man Musical
nytheatre.com review by Micah Bucey
August 15, 2009
Actor-singer Erik Sandvold is doing overtime at Dixon Place. Backed by an incredibly enthusiastic and energetic six-piece band, Sandvold is the sole star of BUBS, a one man musical that offers no less than 15 different personas, each with his own song (or songs) of love, regret, and longing. That Sandvold makes it to the end of this non-stop exercise in multiple personality showmanship is a feat in itself. That the show still seems undercooked even with the high-octane performances of its star and musicians is a major disappointment.
The straightforward story is clear enough. Sandvold portrays Will, a middle-aged man who grew up listening to his washed-up father regale him with tales of his favorite "Bubs," men who love the music they create but can't make a living doing it. Will has come to Dixon Place to present a concert of these songs, the lifeblood that has fed his own artistic ambitions, as a way to "set things right" with the demons from his troubled past that still haunt his pathetic present. Through 18 songs and interspersed monologues (with no costume changes, but a rotating roster of hats), Will inhabits his father's heroes in an attempt to understand the compromises one makes for his art, revealing in the process his own betrayal of his father's trust.
That's about it as far as plot. And once the audience realizes the cliche-ridden journey that they're on, all they can do is sit back and enjoy the music. Thankfully, Sandvold is mostly up to the task of performing the variant styles, from rock to folk to reggae to blues and everything in between. The musicianship over the evening's 80 minutes is never less than stellar, with band members trading instruments, singing backup, and adding their own antics to some of the show's gentle humor. It's when Will chooses to speak instead of sing that the story gets bogged down in self-help confessions and well-trod broken-family melodrama.
The lyrics and libretto, co-written by Cy Frost and Doug Olson (who also serve as music director and drummer, respectively) never reach any true heights of wit or suspense. And with such a familiar story to tell, the lack of surprise intermittently kills the momentum. Director Krin Solo Stofer creates an onstage dynamic that is fun and familial, but the arc of the concert is unclear and the moral ultimately facile.
Still, with the fun and variety that fills each song, from the rockabilly groove of "Don't Do That" to the gospel-tinged rasp of "I Call Your Name," it is hard to dismiss a group that appears to be doing what they love best: making music. And that, if I'm to understand Will's message correctly, is the most a true Bub could ever want.