Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Theatre Critic
Mental health and suicide prevention are issues of vital importance, and I’ve long believed that artists in theatre needed to do more to explore these issues, and to fuel a conversation around them. So naturally, as I was reading about Bryan Williams’ new musical Alex and Eugene, I had high hopes and high expectations. Unfortunately, while not a terrible show, much was left to be desired.
At the very beginning, we see some foreshadowing of what’s to come, when lead character Alex is in the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt, followed by a long and cliché-ridden remainder of Act I, where best friend Eugene gradually becomes more popular and successful in his acting career, stealing the attention of Alex’s crush in the process. The second act, particularly the aftermath of its climactic moment, are filled with more poignancy. However, it drags on as it gets to that point, and more importantly, it fails to touch on the severity of depression and mental illness which realistically tends to lead to these tragic incidents, instead favoring a dull love triangle plot that overlooks these psychological factors, as well as the extreme situations which often are more likely to trigger suicide attempts, in most cases.
It doesn’t help that Mr. Williams’ musical score is generic and unimaginative, a problem that is all too common among many musicals both on and off Broadway. Furthermore, I would question whether the overall tone of this musical score is one that fits with a musical that is meant to explore some rather dark subject matter. A few of the understated acoustic songs were a nice addition, but beyond that, the music of this show left me highly underwhelmed.
It’s not as if there’s nothing more to be praised about the show, though. The cast consists of some highly impressive singers and dancers. In the role of Alex, Jae Shin wonderfully captures both the intensity and sensitivity of his troubled character, while Reggie Herold is displays both vivid charisma and passion in the role of Eugene. Anna Stefanic also stands out with a particularly emotional performance in the role of Tanya, Alex’s twin sister. The cast is rounded out by Joseph Mace (Prof/HIM/Reporter), Rori Nogee (Mother/HER/Interviewer), Brittany Zeinstra (Esme), Noah Pyzik (Brandon/Chuck), Katherine Leidlein (Janie/Lana), and Aja Downing (Cassandra/Dorienne).
The rest of this production team clearly put in a superb effort into this show, as well, with an outstanding scenic design – possibly one of the best I’ve seen within the past year in independent theatre - by Jennilee Aromando, which is complimented nicely by Asa Lipton’s bright lighting design, as well.
Nonetheless, I had to sum up this musical in one sentence, I’d describe it as a cross between High School Musical and 13 Reasons Why. Some might take that to be a compliment, but when I say that, I mean that it’s a generic, youth-oriented work of bland musical theatre, while at the same time, it ultimately falls short in its admirable goal of adequately exploring the painful and complicated issue of suicide among young people. Now, if what I’ve just described to you still sounds intriguing, perhaps you should go and see this production. Otherwise, don’t bother paying the price of admission for this one.
“Alex and Eugene” runs at the Robert Moss Theatre from August 18th-September 2nd. For more information, please visit www.alexandeugene.com.