Tackling pedophilia in a musical is no easy feat, and makes ‘Kid Victory’ a bit of a miss.
“Kid Victory,” a John Kander and Greg Pierce musical in its world premiere production at Signature Theatre, doesn’t seem to have been carefully thought out.
It is the grim, often smarmy tale of a 15-year-old boy who returns home after missing for months while in the clutches of an online sexual predator. This is an odd subject for a musical and might even have worked more effectively if it didn’t have such a disjointed script, not to mention the surprisingly uninspiring music and lyrics.
The expectations were high for Kid Victory since Kander and his late partner Fred Ebb, created a string of Broadway hits such as “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” “Woman of the Year,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” shows that are an important part of the history of the American musical theatre. It might be pointed out that “Cabaret” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” were about dark subjects, but the music and books were wonderful.
Kander’s new partner, Pierce, created the book with Kander and wrote the lyrics for this show, and while Pierce is also a recognized artist, this script and the Kid Victory lyrics belie the significant talents of the two men.
There isn’t a memorable song in the 17 numbers in the show, even though Jesse Kissel’s musical direction is solid and the cast is a collection of exceptional singing performers. One oddity in the production, however, is that Luke, the central character, doesn’t have a number even though there a several places in the script where hearing directly from him would be appropriate.
Portrayed by Jake Winn, Luke mostly sulks like any misunderstood teenager, only this teenager has the added complexity of his hidden homosexuality, while living with a well-meaning but completely feckless mother, Christiane Noll, who is a member of an Evangelical Church. She has a clichéd faith about what will solve her son’s problems and it is evident she will never understand her son. Noll understands the role and she makes Luke’s mother sympathetic. There is nothing wrong with a script that takes a jaundiced look at mindless religiosity, but that has become too easy a target.
Dad, Christopher Block, tries and needs to understand Luke. As written, he is the familiar, weak 1950s-style father who wants to help his son. Dad will eventually be there for Luke with his hesitant, but important, presence. Block, with his strong voice, sings the closing number in “Kid Victory,” “Where We Are,” with a sincere poignancy.
Clint Remos’s scenic design is a broad set that spans the entire width of the stage. It is divided into thirds: one, the family’s living/dining room; in the middle, a large bed that doubles as Luke’s room and his prison; and the third section is a cluttered garden shop where Luke, avoiding going back to school, works and seems most happy with Emily, Sarah Lizsinger, an aging hippy who says she takes life as it is and if her shop fails says she will go west to join a commune.
Emily is one of the bright spots in Kander and Pierce’s otherwise dark production. She too has her problems and is estranged from an adult daughter. Luke’s mother, of course, believes that something is amiss and that Emily, an older woman, has inappropriate designs on her son.
One of the stronger members of the cast is Jeffry Denman, Michael, the pedophile, who is both sympathetic and repellant. The scenes with Luke are distressing in the suggestive staging that director Liesl Tommy sets up in a pantomime of sexual activity.
Tommy’s direction couldn’t seem to overcome the indecisiveness of the script with which he had to work. Kander and Pierce should have taken more time before staging “Kid Victory.” The show runs almost two hours without intermission. It may have been a fortunate decision because it is likely that some people would not have returned for the second act.
“Kid Victory” continues through March 22 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia 22206. Tickets are $47-$105 and available at 703 820 9771 or online here.