nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
December 11, 2011
A “manly man” in musical theater is somewhat of an urban legend. The singing, dancing, and general extravagance don’t easily segue into visions of sports and beer-guzzling. But hot off the buzz of their New York Musical Theatre Festival run, the cast and creative team of Balls…The Musical? have arrived on the scene to show us just how bro-tastic the world of musicals can be. Running at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row for a limited engagement through Christmas Eve, Balls…is a clever, hilarious parody romp through the story of 5 “dudes” pursuing musical theatre in NYC, while re-imagining the songs of Sondheim, Cy Coleman, and even Journey.
While Balls… follows a linear story through the trials and tribulation of Bret, Mick, Brandon, Burger, and Will as they follow their musical theatre dreams, the show has a much looser feel, like a serious of comedic vignettes—usually, accompanied by a wittily re-written musical theatre song to fit the current situation. The tone has the tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top feel akin to something like Urinetown. And similarly, it smartly parodies musical theatre form from beginning to end. The creative team, which includes Bret Carr, Mick Bonde, Brandon Ellis (who all play their respective characters in the show), as well as Michael “Tuba” McKinsey, and Nick Verina, have developed 5 distinct, interesting archetypal characters that play fantastically against each other. Bret is the relatable one—our everyman narrator; Mick is the overly sensitive, fragile one; Brandon is the crass one, always ready with a dick joke or a fart; Will (played by Will Ray) is the sweet, dumb one; and Burger (Nikkieli DeMone) is the guy who’s trying to get away—ready to give up on the dream. Their personalities bounce around each other, creating hilarious, offensive, and charmingly sincere moments. As they struggle to book auditions, pick up women, win their Broadway League Softball title, and deal with losing one of their own, they realize how integral they are to one another and how important their bromance is.
To its credit, the show, which could easily spiral into the abyss of a 90-minute theatre in-joke, stays focused throughout. Even when it takes a jab at certain kinds of actor stereotypes, specific casting directors, and even the Gay Mafia, it seems to do it in a very accessible way. The humor is very “guy” slanted but always seems fresh, even when it’s not. In a hilarious repeated section called “Ball-Points,” hosted by Bret and Brandon, the guys list off everything that women need to know to understand their men. While they’re all things we’ve heard listed before—i.e. “Women you can learn to put the toilet seat down, just as much as we can learn to put it up” and “If you say nothing is wrong, we will continue on as if nothing is wrong”—he guys make each point seem new and hilarious. It helps that each cast member hits the notes of his role so well. Will Ray is such a relatable outcast, Mick Bonde is lovably neurotic, Nikkieli DeMone’s Burger lets out his turmoil over giving up his dream without losing his masculinity, Bret Carr tiptoes on the line of being appropriately too over-the-top in his narration, and Brandon Ellis generally seems like a guy you’d want to watch a football game with on Sunday.
However, despite hitting its comedic note very well, the true star of the show is the choreography and the re-imagined musical numbers. The choreography is perfectly styled; it hits all of the notes of typical Broadway dance-call style choreography, while never being too graceful. It always looks like 5 “dudes” dancing well, which amps up the humor of the sequences. All of the lyric re-works of the song are fun and witty; the particular highlights being the title song (a modified “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” which was cleverly lit and choreographed with flashlights), an overhauled” Cell-Block Tango” where each guy chronicles an audition nightmare or success, and a re-imagined version of Journey’s “Separate Ways.” The only thing it seems to be missing is a parody of a huge show-stopping number, but perhaps that would throw off the flow of the show.
Balls… is a fun ride from beginning to end. Director Kasey Marino keeps the pace moving and never allows the show to take itself too seriously. The cast goes balls-to-the-wall (pun intended) throughout and has so much fun that the audience can’t help but have fun too. With its clever spoofing and light, raunchy humor, Balls…The Musical? is a complete…package…that will apparently leave you stuck making adolescent jokes for days after.