REVIEW: The Breakfast Club Musical (pH Theatricals)

Bouncy score gives this “Breakfast Club Musical” potential

 5 main characters of "Breakfast Club"

pH Productions presents

The Breakfast Club Musical

Directed and adapted by Jason Geis
with direction assistance from Scott Hogan
Music by
Jessica Hunt, lyrics by Jason Geis
musical direction by Jessica Hunt
At
Studio BE, Lakeview
Through April 29
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The archetypes of high school — The Brain … The Jock … The Princess … The Basketcase … The Criminal — surely live on in generation after generation, yet I confess I don’t understand the continuing fascination with John Hughes’ teen-angst film "The Breakfast Club." Set in Shermer High School, a fictional version of Hughes’ Northbrook alma mater, Glenbrook North, the film has led to dozens of YouTube video reenactments and two local stage productions this season alone — all from people who were surely in Pampers, or unborn, when the film premiered in 1985. Like other full casttributes, the latest homage, pH Productions’ The Breakfast Club Musical, takes its dialog and most of its humor directly from the film. The castDan Aho as Principal Vernon; Sally Anderson as Carla the Janitor; Brett Mannes as Brian Johnson, the Brain; Drew Current as Andrew Clark, the Jock; Martha Hearn as Claire Standish, the Princess; Tristan Tanner as Allison Reynolds, the Basketcase; and Matthew Gottlieb as John Bender, the Criminal; backed by a chorus — re-enacts the Saturday when five mismatched teens were unexpectedly stuck together for a day-long detention. More  fully realized than the staged version now at iO Theater, pH’s production, reportedly three years in the making, benefits from an original score of 17 songs by Jessica Hunt with lyrics by adapter and director Jason Geis. With Hunt accompanying on keyboards, this show feels like a workshop production with aspirations rather than a sketchy one-off, and as such, it deserves to be held to a higher standard.

Hunt and Geis’s bouncy pop sound fits well into the theme of the show. Songs range from "An Imperfect Place," a strong ballad sung by Bender to explain an illicitly closed door, to the campy "I’m Only a Virgin," performed by Brian when he’s caught exaggerating his conquests (and hammed to full extent by Mannes) to the lively "Bizarre" by Andy. As a lyricist, Geis is a little too apt to go for the cheap laugh. This show didn’t really need two songs about virginity, and the humor value of obscenities set to music is of the "funny once" variety. Other songs seem incomplete, such as "Come Monday," which just repeats the same line over and over again. And although the song-and-dance numbers refer to the plot, they often seem inserted rather than interwoven, like musical intervals spliced between reels of the film.

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The cohesiveness of the story may suffer a bit for anyone who’s never seen the movie. For example, the chorus adds impact to the songs but needs explaining. Who are these extra people and what are they doing there? When the full cast is on stage,Cassie Speerschneider’s choreography becomes a little cramped. Performances waver. Gottlieb, who resembles the young Marlon Brando, and the flexible-faced Mannes carry most of the show. Hearn and Current each shine in a couple of star turns, but fade when the focus isn’t directly on them. As a director, Geis needs better awareness of sightlines. It would have played better on stage, for example, for Allison to dump her purse on a desk where the audience could see it, but instead she upends it onto the floor, out of view of the back rows.

This isn’t the place for a lengthy discussion of why so many entertainment enterprises — from local troupes like this one to Broadway companies to Hollywood studios — seem bent on rehashing old movies instead of making up new stories of their own, but I like the way Mac Rogers put it in his commentary on the spate of screen-to-stage adaptations that hit Broadway a few years ago: "A musical doesn’t need to be original to be worthy, it just needs to not suck." The Breakfast Club doesn’t suck — in fact it’s quite engaging — but it doesn’t quite go far enough in re-imagining the original. There’s potential here that hasn’t yet been realized.

 

Rating: ★★½

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One Response

  1. […] whereas the other two plays—both stage versions of The Breakfast Club (here and here) —are adaptations of a popular movie, Hey! Dancin’! is wholly original. And although leading an […]

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