Actor, director, and now writer, Kevin Cirone has been toiling away for over two years now, working on his new musical Creative License, which premiered last weekend at The Davis Square Theater in Somerville after a lengthy development. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by what turned out to be a clever and, at times, exceedingly witty new musical about “art, friendships and the power of a good glass of scotch.”
I’ll start by saying that, for the sake of this review, I am going to put aside just about all of the technical elements of the production. While this may seem strange, I happen to know that the production was under some difficult and unfair restrictions by the venue, having to tear down and reinstall their entire show after just about every performance.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff. The music and lyrics are mostly very smart. It feels a bit like Cirone threw a party and invited Jonathan Larson and Jason Robert Brown to a jam session and just towards the end of the night Kitt and Yorkey showed up to tip their glass for a bit. The score, played masterfully by Dan Rodriguez and his band, moves quickly, covers a variety of rock musical styles, and even breaks out into full-on Broadway for a moment (but I don’t want to spoil any surprises). Suffice it to say, I’m still humming through some of the tunes a few days later and Boston may have found a new drinking song in act 2’s “Irish Eyes.”
Cirone also writes a decent book, with a very distinct and recognizable voice. If you know Kevin, it’s easy to imagine him speaking just about every line in the show, which is of course both good and bad. I liked that the humor had a very specific pace and style, but after a while the audience starts to want a bit of variety and dimension. I’ll get into that more (as it relates to a couple of specific characters) in a bit.
But really the book, while funny and witty, suffers from two main problems. First, the pivotal plot point is a bit weak. I loved the idea of brothers coming together and using their talents to save the family business, but the vehicle they use to do that, reaching out to an old professor, seems overly-contrived. It was almost as if the show asks the audience to bear with it as it clunkily stumbles through the plot turn and then picks back up on pace once all the essential points have been established.
Second, this is very much a show about the male characters, and while there is nothing wrong with that, the writing for the female parts is regrettably forgettable. They’re there. They exist. They move the story along, but there is nothing incredibly compelling or powerful about their presence to make me really care about their journeys. Future versions of the show should look to strengthen some of the female roles and really develop their stories a bit more to help lift the whole thing up.
Speaking of the male parts (tee-hee) the boys do shine in this show. Mike Levesque plays the central character, Casey Dennison, a troubled man-child who has never gotten his act together despite being a talented writer. Levesque is incredibly charismatic in the role and carries the show quite well. Towards the end of act 1 I was beginning to tire of his charming ambivalence towards life (remember that comment about variety and dimension?) but he comes back in act 2 with some serious heart and drive.
Ross Brown plays Casey’s brother, Jason, who is about to lose the family bar to the bank. Brown is just brilliant in this role; effortless, comfortable and smooth. I wish he had been used more, but such is the nature of the part. (Note: this is not so much a criticism of the play as it is praise of Brown.)
David Lucey is Perp, a slightly neurotic, and nerdy yet passionate character who comes into his own throughout the course of the show as he pursues the woman he secretly has a crush on. It sounds strange to say, but Lucey’s number in act 1, this tiny little comedic song where he “kinda sorta” confesses his feelings to his crush, is quite possibly one of my favorite moments of the whole show.
Sadly, the entire cast doesn’t do quite so well to grab your attention in the way you might want. Kevin Groppe as the bumbling Professor, Dr. Hardy, clearly struggles to keep pace with the humor and talents of the stronger principal cast, and Varsha Raghavan, while perfectly fine, was faced with the unfortunate task of performing right alongside Lucey who, as noted above, was making that out to be quite the challenge.
New musicals are a rare thing to find in Boston. In recent seasons, we have seen a few pop up, but in general, they are hard to come by. I applaud Kevin for taking on the challenge and seeing his piece through to its world premiere. While the production is not perfect, it is absolutely worth seeing and supporting. I think that this show has a future ahead of it and I look forward to seeing what revisions Cirone might make as it moves on.