The New York premiere of the not-so-new musical “The Mad Ones” is making its New York premiere and being presented by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 theaters. It is a coming of age story that is propelled by the Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 novel “On the Road” but laden with clichés, superfluous situations and a skimpy script that tries to invent reasons to perform fourteen musical numbers. The title is taken from a line in the novel “The only people for me are the Mad Ones”. It is hard to determine exactly what creators Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are attempting to convey when the issues of grief, angst, separation, identity and expectation are merely skirted with no effort to produce a dramatic arc or for that matter any reason to continue to the next scene.
The entire show consists of a series of flashbacks, except for the first and last scenes, where valedictorian Samantha Brown sits in a car deciding on her future. What goes through her mind as she contemplates going to an Ivy League college, staying with her boyfriend or hitting the open road for freedom and adventure, is conveyed by several vignettes, with each containing a song. Any dialogue within or connecting these scenes seems redundant since many of the lyrics usually provide the necessary information and conflicts needed to move the action forward. The musical numbers are written in the Broadway belt fashion and after a while acquire a sameness that diminishes the crisis or turmoil at hand.
The cast is nothing less than remarkable. Krystina Alabado creates an intelligent yet vulnerable Sam with all the angst of a teenager trying to make sense of the world while stepping over the threshold into adulthood. Her vocal stamina is amazing, always delivered with a pure tonal quality. The free-spirited Kelly is infused with undeniable energy by Emma Hunton. Her presence electrifies the stage as she is fierce but fragile, loud but lonely, frivolous but wise with a vocal that erupts to shake the rafters. Leah Hocking brings her endless experience to bring depth and honesty to Beverly, as a single mother and over achiever with a solid vocal that matches her stable character. Jay Armstrong Johnson portrays Adam as oddly simple, content with himself and infused with sensitivity. This a perfectly cast show that manages to overcome the shortcomings of the material.
Direction by Stephen Brackett is conventional and pedestrian which does not match or compliment the complexity of the script’s convention and structure. Orchestrations by Mr. Lowdermilk are heavy on the strings but serve the dramatic content well. Since the project has been around for several years and this is the latest incarnation it should not bow to the problems that still exist. It is not an unpleasant experience but nothing exceptional or groundbreaking.
THE MAD ONES
Produced by Prospect Theater Company, “The Mad Ones” runs through Sunday December 17, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).
The cast of “The Mad Ones” features Krystina Alabado as Samantha Brown; Emma Hunton as her best friend Kelly; and Ben Fankhauser as Adam, her boyfriend. Leah Hocking rounds out the cast as Beverly Brown (Samantha’s mom).
“The Mad Ones” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 17. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Jay Armstrong Johnson (as Adam) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.