Four High School Friends Revisiting Their Past Glories

High school friendships. They’ve been the subject of many musicals, be it “Grease“, “Hairspray“, or Happy Days: The Musical. The latter is a particularly appropriate mention, for last night we saw another musical about high school friends, starring the young fellow who starred in Happy Days” at Cabrillo. This musical is called Glory Days, and it is running through April 24 at the Elephant Stages at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood. This is the Los Angeles premiere.

Glory Days” tells the story of four high school friends—Will, Andy, Jack, and Skip—who meet one night, a year after graduation, on the high school football field’s bleachers. The four became friends when they were all ostracized by the football team. In the opening number we see learn about the characters: Will is the basic good boy and chronicler (a role very similar to Ritchie Cunningham in Happy Days). He is rooming with Andy, a frat-boy interested in girls and sports… and little else. Skip is a long-haired hippie type who went to an Ivy league school. Jack appears more preppyish. Will mentions that the purpose of the night is to play a prank on the friends’ high school rivals, although there is one problem… Will has the wrong key to the sprinkler box. As the evening goes on, we learn that Jack dropped out of school to take a road trip, learning that he is gay along the way. This naturally creates problems with Andy, who privately airs his feelings of betrayal to Will, and Will convinces Andy to stay despite how uncomfortable Andy is being around Jack. Skip proceeds to expound on his recent intuitions about life and the generation to which the four friends belong. After hearing about how his friends have changed, Will sits back and reflects on the difference between the reality of the get together and what he assumed it would be like. After reading Will’s Journal, the four friends compare notes about high school and recount the “glory days” of the past. Jack then takes Will aside to ask him about what he thinks about Jack’s revelation, and asks Will what Will thinks Andy thinks, where Will betrays Andy’s confidence and half-lies to Jack to cushion the blow of Andy’s misgivings, going on to “explain” Andy to Jack.When Jack expresses some feelings for Will, he and Will are caught by Andy and Skip. An altercation brews when Andy interprets this as a further betrayal and explodes at Will, who is then defended by Jack (who unintentionally validates Andy’s assumption). The argument grows more heated and more confusing as Skip leaps to Jack’s defense and Will attempts to make peace between the four friends. During the argument Andy throws an angry epithet at Will, and Jack and Andy then vent their mutual feelings of betrayal and anger at a new level of emotional violence after which Jack departs. Skip then turns on Andy, who vents his ire, exposes the lies Will had told, and demands his due from the two remaining friends, after which Andy storms off. Learning what truly happened from Will, Skip then talks Will into accepting his mistakes, and Skip leaves Will alone on the field. Will reexamines his life and decides to stop living in the past and move forward like his friends have.
[Summary adapted from Wikipedia]

I found the parallels between this musical and “Happy Days” illuminating. Both were about groups of friends at the cusp of moving past who they were in high school. In “Happy Days”, the key problem was that the characters didn’t grow—they remained in their high school personas. In “Glory Days” most of the characters had grown: Jack found his sexuality; Skip moved from the military nature of his upbringing. Andy never grew up, remaining a stupid child in an adult’s body (which, admittedly, does capture many frat boys). Will had to confront these changes and decide what to do—in this case, he decided to grow up. In fact, he wanted to become a writer, and talked about writing what he knew (which made me think of The Story of My Life, which we saw in the same space).

The underlying book of “Glory Days” (which is by James Gardiner) is supported by a reasonably strong rock score by Nick Blaemire (who did both music and lyrics). I will admit that some songs are more memorable than others. I was particularly drawn to “those Good Old Glory Type Days” and “Generation Apathy”.

The cast’s portrayal of these four friends was very good—you came across with the impression that these were real friends from the way they played, joshed, and just interacted with each other. Credit for that goes not only to the actors but to the director, Calvin Remsberg (who we happened to have a nice conversation with before the show). Remsberg directed the show very true to life (I want to use the word “naturalistic”, but I know enough to know that has a specific meaning that I don’t know :-)). The movement and the playfulness and the use of the physical space just came across as very real, as opposed to staged. This made the show fun to watch, as you were a voyeur on the field with these friends.

Speaking of the acting team: it was great. As Will, Derek Klena (), gave off a wonderful clean-cut vibe (you can easily see why he was cast as Ritchie Cunningham, even if his hair color was wrong :-)). He sang strong, and just gave off that friendly enthusiasm you would expect from such a character. Matthew Koehleræ () was the perfect red-haired frat boy in plaid shorts, to the point of doing sit-ups and push-ups on the bleachers during songs. Again, a strong singer who inhabited the character. Similarly, as Skip, Alex Robert Holmesæ inhabited the character (in fact, he reminded me of some of my high school friends). Lastly, as Jack, Ian Littleworth (), portrayed the character as a real person, not stereotypically. If I hadn’t said it before: all were strong singers and strong actors, with great personal chemistry both between each other and with the audience.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

I previously noted that music and lyrics were by Nick Blaemire. Music was provided by a hidden four piece band (Justin Smith on guitar, Ken Wild on bass, Brian Boyce on drums, and James May () on keyboards) under the muiscal direction of James May (). The band sounded quite good (and was quite a change from the modern jazz in the afternoon), and didn’t overpower the singers.

Turning to the technical… I’m continually impressed with how the Elephant Stages space is used. I still remember the creative use for The Story of My Life. For “Glory Days“, scenic designer Andy Hammer turned the thrust stage into a football field complete with bleachers, lighting stancheons, trash cans and trash, and a lighted football scoreboard. It was perfect (and made me think this would be a great show to do at REP East). The costumes by Mara Bear were appropriately college-ish, and served to highlight the appropriate characteristics of the characters. The lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick was a bit more problematic. This wasn’t due to the choice of colors or how the various lights were used—that was great and served to highlight the mood. The problem was more technological: the scrollers tended to be distracting either due to the noise they make or reflections off the gels, plus they often made the color transitions harsher. I’m beginning to think that scrollers are problematic in a small theatre space because one is too close to the mechanism. The other lighting aspect I noted was the use of moving mirrors for the spots: that’s a necessary limitation of a space like that that lacks a spotlight booth, but it does mean that sometimes the spot isn’t where you want it to be. The sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski () was reasonably good, but there are times I wasn’t sure that the obvious microphones the actors were wearing were live. Ronn Goswickæ was the production stage manager. “Glory Days” was produced by Calvin Remsberg, Anthony Gruppuso, and Tricia Small Stabile.

Glory Days” continues at the Lillian Theatre/Elephant Stages until April 26. Tickets are available through Plays411, as well as through Goldstar Events and LA Stage Alliance.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend takes us to the Renaissance Faire; no theatre is scheduled. April 16 sees us out in Thousand Oaks revisiting “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, with Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre on April 17. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. April 24 was to bring God of Carnage at the Ahmanson Theatre, but the Hottix sold out in ½ hour… so we may try to get rush tickets (for they are not selling rear balcony in advance). The last weekend of April brings another concert: (this is a concert heavy year, it seems): Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May starts with our penultimate Pasadena Playhouse production, “George Gershwin Alone“, on May 7. The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28 (note: “Dear World“, which was to have been at the Lyric Theatre, appears to have been cancelled). June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple (now a maybe), and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 22 or 23, Hollywood Bowl, pending ticketing); “Shrek” (July 23 or 24, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed).