Review: Glory Days – Exclaim Theatre Co

Glory Days closed after its opening night on Broadway. But it’s not all bad. A coming of age musical that can trace its lineage to every other almost-not-a-teen angst show before it, there is something about it that gives it promise, a certain hint of burgeoning talent, or potential, that makes it not quite a throwaway and that continues to give it regional, independent, and amateur and community life after Broadway.

That something, unfortunately, is not really within the show itself; it’s in the not-then-quite-realised talent of the composer and lyricist, Nick Blaemire, whose writing in this show was still unformed and hopeful and striving. Now, years later, Blaemire is still writing and making good on the promise inherent in Glory Days, his songs capturing human experience with a particular, and satisfyingly unique, voice.

The show itself doesn’t hold up quite as readily. There’s a lot to like about it: the four characters, ex-highschool outcasts that found each other and became firm friends, feel recognisable, and there’s something likeable about at least half of them. The contemporary sound in the music, the raucous energy of the piece that careens through just one act, the feeling of growing up and the anxiety it inspires captured in the plot – these are great themes for Exclaim, a new, young company of recent graduates, to pick up on and present. The songs are fun, though repetitive in lyric, theme, and formula, but there are a couple – “Generation Apathy,” “The Good Old Glory Type Days”, and “The Thing About Andy” – that stand out as something special, something intriguing. A lure to get us to bite.

The cast of Glory Days. Image by Francis Fotography.
The cast of Glory Days. Image by Francis Fotography.

We don’t quite. The direction of Exclaim’s Glory Days, by Elizabeth Evans, is too broad and too stilted; the show doesn’t quite know how to define its book scenes and bring them to life and make them feel different from the ones preceding or following. The show re-states itself a million times over (things were one way, but now they’re another, and people change and now they’re different and so am I), so the onus is on the directors and performers to find a way in to each interaction and make it sing with new truths. To shade this repetition so it feels like growth. To basically make it feel like we aren’t watching the same scene, or hearing the same song, ten times. Unfortunately, that’s sort of what it feels like.

Julian Kuo and Tim Dal Cortivo are the standouts of their production – Dal Cortivo is becoming a fine actor,  and Kuo is hot on his heels and lively. There’s something very watchable about him, here. His character Skip gets one of the better songs, “Generation Apathy,” and Kuo delivers it with undeniable charm.

The crux of the show and the telling sink or swim moment is “The Thing Abut Andy.” Jack (Dal Cortivo) has just come out to his high school friends, who ranged from a distinct lack of surprise to an angry sense of betrayal in response. Andy (Damon Grebert-Wade) is the guy who went the anger route, and Jack and Will (Aaron Robuck, who carries the show as a character who could not have existed if Rent’s Mark Cohen didn’t exist first), in a moment alone, are trying to talk out the situation and talk through the puzzle that is their friend, who has never quite been like the other three friends.

The thing is, that’s not quite what the song is about. Or, it is and it isn’t – there’s a clear shift in this song towards something unspoken in the current hearts and minds of the two friends singing it, and it ends in a gesture that shouldn’t feel completely out of the blue. It should feel earned and almost inevitable, something built up within “The Thing About Andy” – the song is in one sense an act of misdirection. This doesn’t come across for Exclaim. You can hear it in the lyrics, feel the song willing something, but it doesn’t quite get there. The show doesn’t have a lot of emotional beats to explore, and when they are missed, or are shallow, you notice the loss of them. Even if you don’t know they’re supposed to be there.

Evans has done a game directorial job but it ultimately results in a production that only knows how to do one thing. The thing it can do is very charming, but it’s not quite enough.

Exclaim is a beginning company that is still finding their feet – this is only their second production. They’re doing a great thing in creating work opportunities and platforms to showcase their talents. That is and always will be commendable. Working in the theatre,no matter the role, is a series of learning experiences. There are a lot of great things to come from Glory Days, like Julian Kuo’s affability and Grebert-Wade’s physical fearlessness on a tricky setpiece, and a lot of promise everywhere else. This one didn’t quite work out, but that’s okay; nothing does all the time. Exclaim’s next production will rise above. It has to; we all have to, to keep moving forward. And that’s a lesson right there in the book of Glory Days. Let these things happen even if they’re not as you planned. Experience them; you will be okay again.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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