F#@king Up Everything

nytheatre.com review by PJ Grisar
March 23, 2013

F#%king Up Everything, a rock musical now playing at the Electra Theatre in Times Square starts up with a riff by the onstage band and the proclamation of the Williamsburg Hipster shibboleth: “Fuck everything.” Thankfully, this is an apathy that doesn’t follow through, as the cast and music pulse with enthusiasm, even when the book falls a bit short.

 We’re in a dive bar—with set designer Deb O’s dusty back wall painted in all its dingy glory with lighting designer Joel E. Silver’s lights, and decked with PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) cans, license plates and a wayward bottle of mustard—listening to the Indie rock band, Ironic Maiden (which lives somewhere in between pit and plot propellant). Maiden is fronted by Jake, a “Hipster douchebag” with rock star good looks and power tenor chops. His lifelong buddy Christian and the hipster-chic Ivy, who is dating his bassist, the perpetually stoned Tony, are all there awaiting the arrival of Ivy’s friend Juliana whom Christian thinks he may have a shot with—so long as Jake doesn’t get in the way.

Hilarity ensues in Christian’s unconventional courtship, the inevitable love triangles, break-ups, people loving the wrong people, and even a form of therapy involving puppets of rock stars and the literati. All their problems are solved with the convenient appearance of Ariel, the sex-crazed booker for a venue called the Brooklyn Bowl, where we have a tidy denouement and one reveal that comes more-than-a-little out of left field. 

For all the fun and laughs we have with these characters, and there are many, we never quite rise beyond the punch line that is their characterization. Tony sings a reggae ode to his bong. Of course, Ivy works in a food co-op and keeps a blog. Singer/songwriter Juliana only plays the ukulele (did they have a trope checklist?).  Christian’s full name is the pantheistic Christian Muhammed Shwartzleberg and he performs puppet shows for kids. We get it. It wears thin, and, often reads a bit false. Jake, for instance, is more properly classed as a “douchebag” than douchebag hipster. There’s nothing all that hipstery about him, which, ironically, makes him a bit less superficial then the other guys that play into type. With Jake, the writer’s don’t feel it necessary to establish a major in Queer Theory from a granola-y alma mater, or an out there vocation (he works at Pinkberry). The play is saved by its self-awareness, but at times, it reads more like a cop out than a stylistic choice.

The music is good, if reprise heavy and genre-confined. Composer and lyricist David Eric Davis (who is also co-book writer with Sam Forman), has written a number of catchy themes milking a full, musical theatre sound from the four-person band. The songs, however, are not always filling a dramatic or plot-based need, and, when they’re not, they don’t always land, nor do their occasionally belabored AAAA rhyme schemes. One of my favorite numbers, in fact, is the synth-pop “Email Song,” which inventively delivers story information via musicalized email exchanges-- this got me where some of the more derivative ballads failed to. Juliana’s open-mic song “Falling,” for instance could find a home in any modern musical where an ingénue needs to proffer an apology. 
The cast of seven (with two actor/instrumentalists) are funny and cool and have great sets of pipes. Max Crumm’s Christian is appropriately awkward and nebbishy, but you can see why Juliana (the wonderful Katherine Cozumel) falls for him. Jason Gotay is a rock star as Jake and his band mates Douglas Widick’s high-as-a kite Tony and George Salazar’s “special” Drummer are the most endearing characters on stage.

Dawn Cantwell’s Ivy is perky and pert and rides the high notes in her solo “If You Were Mine,” and Lisa Birnbaum’s Arielle rocks the house with her Y.O.L.O. (You Only Live Once)-philosophy in “Fuck-It List.” Director/Choreographer Jen Wineman has crafted a high-energy show that moves by at a clip and never drags and makes for a fun evening if you’ve got the scratch. Those who are easily offended should look elsewhere, and those looking for the real-deal Hipster experience should hit up an open mic night at a Bushwick bar where, you can be sure, the energy’s a lot lower, the crowd a bit higher, and the eyes all fixed to the floor.

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