By Mike Hoban
‘Burn All Night’ – Book and Lyrics by Andy Mientus. Music by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta, and Brett Moses. Directed by Jenny Koons. Scenic Design by Sara Brown; Choreography by Sam Pinkleton; Costume Design by Evan Prizant, Lighting Design by Bradley King; Sound Design by Jessica Paz; Music Direction by Cian McCarthy. Produced by the American Repertory Theater at Oberon, 2 Arrow St, Cambridge, through Sept. 8
There’s a scene in the second act of “Burn All Night”, the millennial musical now making its world premiere at Oberon, where four friends are partying hard while waiting for the apocalypse, when they decide to engage in a faux philosophical game of “What would you do if the world were ending tomorrow?” The answer by one of them – that he would essentially get spectacularly wasted – angers the alleged deep thinker of the group, who was undoubtedly hoping for something a little more substantial. The unintentional irony is that the same holds true for much of “Burn” a frothy new work by Broadway and television star (and first time playwright) Andy Mientus, who has created a show that delivers high energy entertainment – but little of its promised depth.
Which isn’t to say the show isn’t fun. Powered by an upbeat synthpop score (written in conjunction with Brooklyn band Teen Commandments) that features a few numbers that sound like they were snatched from 80’s teen movies like “Weird Science” or cult favorite “Better Off Dead”, “Burn All Night” rocks out pretty well overall, and offers a couple of ballads that will undoubtedly resonate more solidly with its source generation than a reviewer who’s a couple of decades removed from the Gen Y demographic.
The show, which is bound to draw comparisons to “Rent”, centers on the lives of four twenty-somethings trying to find their way in the various arts worlds while spending nights in the New York club scene. The play opens with Bobby (Lincoln Clauss), a sexually ambiguous recent college grad explaining to his heartbroken mother via cellphone why he had to leave Pittsburgh (which is not exactly Iowa) for New York. He steps off the bus and meets lifelong friend Holly (Krystina Alabado), an art student who has “gone corporate” by taking a job at an advertising agency and forsaken her artistic dreams. Bobby has no place to stay, so Holly offers to let him crash with her and her boyfriend Zak (Ken Clark), a struggling musician who once had a “modest radio hit”, but is now relegated to playing small clubs and is plagued with self-doubt.
Bobby’s good fortune continues the next night at Zak’s gig, when he meets Will, who while offering to be his new best friend (even throwing him a welcome party) may have an ulterior motive. Will, it turns out, once was involved with Holly, and is eager to rekindle things with her with Bobby’s (unknowing) help. The all white leads are bolstered by a supporting cast (“The Kids”) that looks much like a singing and dancing Gap ad, led by the transgendered Oona (the talented MJ Rodriguez) and featuring Boston Conservatory grad Gabrielle Carruba, whom some may recognize from her terrific star turn as Millie in Reagle Theatre’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2016.
The plot revolves peripherally around the millennials finding their place in the universe while they endlessly party, but mostly focuses on Zak’s watching his relationship with Holly slipping away, driving her into the waiting arms of Will – at least until disaster strikes. As the kids party to the show’s signature tune, a surefire pop hit with club life line, “”No one knows who I am, but I feel famous tonight,” a massive earthquake strikes New York, setting the stage for what should be the “heavy” portion of the musical. This is where “Burn” loses its way, despite some really good numbers (none of which are titled in the show’s program). Considering the end of the world may be coming, there doesn’t seem to be any overwhelming sense of urgency, to do anything other than to take selfies, dance and party for most of the millennials (although there is a pretty cool earthquake rumble that reverberates throughout Oberon which maintains some sense of foreboding) so there is no real sense of danger one would expect from an apocalyptic event.
Because I’m not the target demographic, I checked with my friend’s millennial daughter at the intermission to get her impression. “I’m not sure I’d run out and buy the soundtrack,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun.” Agreed. For more info, go to: http://americanrepertorytheater.org/oberon