Review: Girlfriend

Jimmy Mavrikes (l) and Ian Marcontell in Girlfriend    Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
March 2, 2019

On paper, Girlfriend looks like a fairly good idea: A sweet little jukebox musical about two Nebraskan young men who find themselves attracted to each other right after high school graduation and their journey toward self-awareness of their own sexuality, done in about 90 minutes. In execution, however, the show is snail-paced and flat emotionally.

Now at the Plaza in a Lyric Theatre production, Girlfriend gets its songs from a 1991 album of the same title by Matthew Sweet (unknown to me). Todd Almond wrote the book. The production is a collaboration between Lyric and the Washington, D.C., Signature Theatre. Matthew Gardiner (who staged Lyric’s successful West Side Story in 2017) directed both productions.

Ian Marcontell plays Mike, the jock, while Jimmy Mavrikes is Will, the nerd. Mavrikes is a Washington, D.C., actor who played the role at Signature. Marcontell studies drama at Oklahoma City University. Both are boyishly handsome, have strong singing voices, are proficient actors, and would have credible romantic chemistry, if such a thing were possible in this leaden show.

The onstage band of Britt Bonney (keyboard/conductor), Taylor Yancey (bass), Susannah Leonard (drums), and Bat-Or Kalo (guitar) is fully visible at the back of the stage through a mesh screen in Misha Kachman’s sharp, spare scenic design. LED lights frame the screen, and Frank Labovitz’s lighting design comes in a pleasing, multi-hued palette. It’s a fine-looking show. Ryan Hickey’s sound design does an excellent job of establishing various locations, from the country with chirping crickets to a baseball park where it sounds like a batter whacks a homerun out of the stadium and many more sites.

First staged in 2010, the show has an unusual, for these days, minimum of profanity. Nothing more provocative than “go fly a kite” until the last few minutes when we get a “fuck off” (Mike) and a “fucking” (Will). This musical is really pretty mild stuff. That’s the problem. The show creates no dramatic tension as Mike and Will awkwardly try to figure out things about themselves. It’s a slow drag to the end that seems much longer than 90 minutes. About half the audience gave the show a perfunctory standing ovation at curtain calls.

But, still, it was odd to see eight audience members walk out during the reviewed performance last Thursday. All left during the final third of the show. The first two went out right after the boys’ first kiss, an innocent peck in which their lips barely touch. It’s a mystery why anyone would take offense at these cute lads having a lukewarm kiss, if, indeed, that’s what happened. I think boredom drove out the other six. Now, that’s understandable.

Girlfriend by Todd Almond (book) and Matthew Sweet (music and lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through March 17
Plaza Theatre
1725 N.W. 16th St.

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