Shoulder Shrug, Head Tilt: “Burn All Night”

Krystina Alabado (Holly), Lincoln Clauss (Bobby), Perry Sherman (Will), and Ken Clark (Zak) shut out the world in Burn All Night. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva.

Presented by the American Repertory Theatre
Book and lyrics by Andy Mientus
Music by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta, Brett Moses
Directed by Jenny Koons
Choreographed by Sam Pinkleton
Music supervision & vocal arrangements by Cian McCarthy

Aug. 18 – Sept. 8, 2017
Club Oberon
Cambridge, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge, MA) At first glance, Burn All Night is pretty impressive. It has a fancy pedigree in director Koons and creator Mientus. Teen Commandments wrote the score. For those who enjoy pop, they’re on Spotify and worth a listen. Choreographer Sam Pinkleton also worked on Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The production was not as impressive as its credits.

BAN is an immersive, emo-pop, millennial musical about a hetero love triangle, and the one clueless kid foolish enough to get trapped in it.  Bobby (Lincoln Clauss) has moved to NYC. On his first day there, he runs into Holly (Krystina Alabado) a friend from high school who just so happens to live there too. She’s living with Zak (Ken Clark) but dated Will (Perry Sherman) in high school. Bobby has no idea that Will knew Holly in college. Will doesn’t either. The drama goes from complicated to worse in the club that Will might as well live in. Sometime before intermission there’s an earthquake.

The execution of the show’s technical elements is flawless. Scenic and lighting design are excellent. Aside from spotty mics that were surely situational, the sound design was also excellent. Pinkleton’s choreography was energetic and inventive. Add them all together and it looked like a neon, 90’s TRL music video fantasy. It was fun.

The song lyrics were pretty good. Teen Commandments and Mientus write as well as Paramour but no worse than guy who writes for Justin Bieber. It’s slightly edgy, singable and relatively inoffensive songwriting. Students and professionals would have a good time playing with their stuff.

Unfortunately, the NYC-based cast, despite their perfectly performed music and staging, didn’t deliver. Their performances were empty. Sitting mere feet away from them, I felt nothing in response to their efforts. They have passion, but no individuality. There’s little about their performances that make them memorable.

The exception is the MJ Rodriguez as Oona. She burns up the dancefloor like a diva, and rips through music like it owes her money. Where’s her musical? That’s the show I want to see.

 

MJ Rodriguez (Oona) takes the stage at the club in Burn All Night. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva.

Mientus’ plot is cliched and his characters are flat. We never learn enough about the leads to develop compassion for them. These personality-emancipated sexy lamps with notes are navigating life like drones. Rather than capitalizing on the universality of inconveniently falling in love with someone deeply inconvenient at an inconvenient time, this musical tries to make the story of Bobby, Zak, Will and Holly unique by traumatizing its leads. It fails.   

 

Adding insult to injury, there is no realized apocalyptic message in Burn All Night. The “catastrophe” is a gimmick, a quick way to get the kids out of the club and into a more intimate space without developing the characters or the plot. It’s a device as superficial as our heroes. The musical’s summary tells us that our heroes survive by banding together when catastrophe hits. Except, we aren’t told what or how their world, or the world at large is affected. The audience kept ignorant of the world we’re meant to emotionally invest in so we don’t.

Burn All Night has the potential to be a great show. It needs edits and an opportunity to develop a soul. Just like twenty-somethings need time to grow into mature adults. This is not a coincidence.   

Tangentially, I can not understand why the cast of Burn All Night wasn’t plucked from the depths of Boston talent. Why is it that the ART/Oberon couldn’t call upon its students for this show?  Pre-production work and rehearsals started long before the current Institute hullabaloo. One doesn’t have to go to New York City to tell a story about New York City. But, the ART’s students do have to go to NYC to work with the ART. That’s messed up.

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