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North Carolina Theatre’s Jan. 18-Feb.3 Pre-Broadway Tryout of “Nerds” Has a Lot of Growing Up to Do

EDITOR’S NOTE 1: This is one of two Triangle Arts & Entertainment reviews of Nerds. To read the Jan. 21st TAE review by Susie Potter, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/01/nerds-offers-an-evening-of-giddy-theatre-going-fun/.

“American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo (right) plays Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ girlfriend Sally in “Nerds" at NCT (photo by Curtis Brown)

“American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo (right) plays Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ girlfriend Sally in “Nerds” at NCT (photo by Curtis Brown)

EDITOR’S NOTE 2: Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC actor, director, and theater and music critic. To read all of his Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

There’s something new happening downtown. The North Carolina Theatre is producing a pre-Broadway tryout of the new musical comedy, Nerds, showing through Feb. 3rd at A.J. Opera Fletcher Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

Nerds has a book and lyrics by Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner and music by Hal Goldberg. With the tagline, “Steve, Bill and the dawn of the digital revolution,” it hugely satirizes the meeting and the subsequent paths to glory of Microsoft founder Bill Gates (Stanley Bahorek) and his rival, Apple founder Steve Jobs (N.C.-native Darren Ritchie). A kernel of truth allows for some outlandish happenings. It’s pretty big; it’s very flashy; but in the end, it’s just okay.

This is not to discredit the talent; in actuality, the ensemble assembled here is first rate. The voices are incredible, and the actors are fully invested and committed, doing the very best they can with what they have to work with — and what they have to work with isn’t all bad. But there are some significant barriers standing in the way of Nerds becoming something on which people should spend upwards of $100 or more a ticket.

Helming the cast are the wonderfully talented Stanley Bahorek and Darren Ritchie. The two work very well together, and both bring amazing pipes (the notes they wail are up in the stratosphere). The script takes these two foes and really turns them into fantasy-like caricatures: Gates becomes a menacing, all-consuming, Doctor-Evil-esque figure, while Jobs is the do-good-kid, the beloved slacker who rises up to challenge (and eventually defeat) The Man. It’s a strange take; a very pro-Jobs/anti-Gates bent. That’s neither good nor bad really; it was just an interesting direction to take the story.

“American Idol” alum Diana DeGarmo gives a solid performance as Steve Jobs’ love-interest, Sally; and has a shining gospel moment as the Oracle in Act II. Funnyman Cole Escola (of Logo’s Jeffery and Cole Casserole) stands out in every role he has — including the odd Italian Clown. Leslie Kritzer is a very strong player who makes big, bold choices and has a commitment level second-to-none. A broken heel in Act II proved no challenge for her as she wobbly sauntered off-stage, embracing the moment and making it work.

The ensemble is adeptly rounded out by Benny Elledge, Rob Morrison, James Moye, and Matthew Allen Wilson.

The biggest fault of the new piece — and, perhaps, one of the most challenging fixes — lies in the lyrics. They’re juvenile, forced, and a poor attempt at smarts and wit. The opening number, “I Hope I Win,” shows promise; it’s actually a fair opening to the piece. It lives in the vein of William Finn (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Falsettoland): lots of words crammed into plunky melodies, introducing us to all of the characters. It’s quick and has some funny moments.

The trouble begins in the second number, “I Am Just a Nerd,” where a forlorn Bill Gates recalls being teased and taunted in school. The show’s writers employ stereotypical images of wedgies and being stuffed in lockers in an attempt to make the audience empathize with his woes, but we do not. And the rest of Act I is full of similarly flat musical numbers.

It’s not until Act II where we get some full-fledged Musical Theater Numbers, like the opener “Down and Out in Silicon Valley” (a la “Skid Row” in Little Shop of Horrors) and the show-stopper “Think Different.” But these are the only two songs of much worth.

Even the climactic “Battle of the Century” is a bit of a snooze — an accidental breaking of a light saber (yes, you read that correctly) kept the audience and actors in a giggle fit, but the song did not achieve what I feel the writers were hoping it would. Very few of the songs are hummable tunes that you take with you from the theater. In looking back through the list, I could only recall the melodies to a couple of them.

Technically and visually, the show’s in fantastic shape. The cast plays before a gigantic green motherboard with different types of lights and projection screens interspersed throughout. A large garage-door-like opening allows for grand entrances or rolling units to pass through it. It’s a very inventive design by Lee Savage.

Jason Lyons provides exceptional lighting design. Projection design by Zachary Borovay helps keep the production modern and allows for some really smart and fun imagery. Alejo Vietti‘s costumes are dead-on, all except for a rather frumpy pair of jeans and black turtleneck that Darren Ritchie wears throughout the latter portion of the show, invoking Jobs’ trademark look.

Director Marc Bruni and choreographer Denis Jones keep things brisk and light, but they can’t draw attention away from what is a challenging book that, in the end, tries to turn itself into a Moral Show, giving Gates the stage in an attempt to work in a message that we as the audience should take home with us. When a show so rooted in over-the-top satire suddenly plays a serious moment, it can throw the train off the tracks. The audience isn’t necessarily prepared for it; and if the show doesn’t handle it correctly, it can be lackluster. Such is the case here.

There is some positive working here: great talent, wonderful orchestrations, and a solid music score; however, the troubled book and flawed lyrics are a huge burden. The show is in a good starting position; the creators need not be afraid to scrap and rewrite — a lot. Nerds may eventually find itself on the Great White Way, but it has a lot of growing up to do between this production and a New York mounting.

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 21st Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-New-Musical-NERDS-Takes-on-Raleigh-20130121; Jan. 21st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/21/2622908/musical-nerds-will-keep-tech-savvy.html; Jan. 21st Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts & Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/01/nerds-offers-an-evening-of-giddy-theatre-going-fun/; Jan. 19th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Tom Elrod: http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2013/01/19/nerds-a-new-musical-about-steve-jobs-and-bill-gates-premieres-in-raleigh; Jan. 12th Raleigh, NC NBC-17 interview with Diana DeGarmo, conducted by Sharon Delaney for “My Carolina Today”: http://www2.nbc17.com/entertainment/2013/jan/12/diana-degarmo-46094-vi-55203/; Jan. 8th Raleigh-Durham, NC Triangle Tech Talk by Mark Easley, Sr.: http://triangletechtalk.com/1/2013/01/a-unique-startup-in-raleigh-nerds-the-musical/; Nov. 17th New York, NY BroadwayWorld.com preview by the BWW News Desk: http://broadwayworld.com/article/Diana-DeGarmo-Darren-Ritchie-Leslie-Kritzer-and-More-to-Lead-Pre-Broadway-Engagement-of-NERDS-Full-Cast-Announced-20121115; and June 19th New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/167237-Nerds-Reading-Booting-Up-for-Broadway-Will-Include-Michael-Arden-Kate-Shindle-Charlie-Pollock-and-More and Nov. 15th preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/172265-North-Carolina-Staging-of-Broadway-Aimed-Nerds-to-Feature-Darren-Ritchie-Stanley-Bahorek-Leslie-Kritzer-Diana-DeGarmo. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/01/american-idol-runner-up-diana-degarmo-stars-in-the-pre-broadway-engagement-of-nerds-at-nct/.)

The North Carolina Theatre presents NERDS at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22-25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and 27, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29-Feb. 1, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $64.20-$80.10 (including fees), except $25 (cash only) Student Rush Tickets.

BOX OFFICE:

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115202/1761293.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 5204, or http://nctheatre.com/theatre/group_sales.html.

SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/nerds.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNKVPQ71o4&feature=player_embedded.

SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/2013-shows.

PRESENTER: http://nctheatre.com/.

BLOG: http://nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/fletcher-opera-theater.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

NOTE:Arts Access (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2nd, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Nerds: http://www.nerdsmusical.com/ (official website).

Hal Goldberg: http://www.theofficialhalgoldbergwebsite.com/ (official website).

Jordan Allen-Dutton: http://www.jordanallendutton.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_Allen-Dutton (Wikipedia).

Erik Weiner: http://www.erikweiner.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Weiner (Wikipedia).

Diana DeGarmo: http://www.dianadegarmo.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_DeGarmo (Wikipedia). 

The North Carolina Theatre presents NERDS at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22-25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and 27, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29-Feb. 1, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $64.20-$80.10 (including fees), except $25 (cash only) Student Rush Tickets.

BOX OFFICE:

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115202/1761293.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 5204, or http://nctheatre.com/theatre/group_sales.html.

SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/nerds.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJNKVPQ71o4&feature=player_embedded.

SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/2013-shows.

PRESENTER: http://nctheatre.com/.

BLOG: http://nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/fletcher-opera-theater.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2nd, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Nerds: http://www.nerdsmusical.com/ (official website).

Hal Goldberg: http://www.theofficialhalgoldbergwebsite.com/ (official website).

Jordan Allen-Dutton: http://www.jordanallendutton.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_Allen-Dutton (Wikipedia).

Erik Weiner: http://www.erikweiner.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Weiner (Wikipedia).

Diana DeGarmo: http://www.dianadegarmo.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_DeGarmo (Wikipedia). 

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC actor, director, and theater and music critic. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Jesse R. Gephart’sTriangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

 


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