This new musical takes pride, and without prejudice, in embracing well-worn cliches and in incorporating as many stereotypical aspects of human behavior as possible. It also empowers the kind of trite plot situation that would normally send shivers down your back. Actually, it has no right being as funny and as entertaining as it is.
This creation by Ken Davenport with a group called the Grundleshotz and Mark Allen, who wrote the very agreeable music and snappy lyrics (inspired, according to program notes, by a series of improvisations) has all the earmarks of a lampoon of those corny musicals about winning a contest or triumphing in the wake of impossible odds. It has all the visible hashtags to identify it as an anomaly of a new kind of musical comedy genre: Do everything you can to fail and see how well that can work in your favor.
John Rando, best known for his award-winning direction of “Urinetown,” as well as for such notable Off-Broadway diversions as “The Toxic Avenger” (which began its life at the George Street Playhouse) and the recent revival of “All in the Timing,” knows how to mold a rather shaky premise into an almost sturdy pastiche. You can’t help but love a show as courageously presumptuous as this one.
When 40-year-old Mitch Martino (Mitchell Jarvis) gets fired from his job on Wall Street, he heads back to his hometown of Sayreville, New Jersey, to be welcomed back by his mother Sharon (Alison Fraser). The compulsive, keeping-trim (in more ways than one), and sassy bleached blonde urges her son to round up the members of Juggernaut, the rock band of his youth — none of whom apparently have ever left town.
Fatefully, Mitch’s return coincides with the local annual Battle of the Bands. There is not a semblance of any reality to anything that transpires. But the accumulation of overly familiar parts when put together, as they are here, turn out to be surprisingly diverting.
Initially the problem for Mitch is to round up the guys and see if they can still play. They are: Bart (Jay Klaitz), the pudgy high school math teacher who may be having a naughty affair with someone’s mom; Sully (Adam Monley), a policeman with a subscription to the Paper Mill Playhouse who wants to be an actor and also has a crush on policewoman partner Roxanne (Diedre Goodwin); and Robbie (Manu Narayan), an Indian dermatologist who appears to be heading toward a pre-arranged marriage. An unlikely recruit, in light of a dismal and dispiriting audition for local aspirants, is 16-year-old Ricky (Evan Daves), who speaks like a black rapper, but who turns out to be . . .well, that’s the biggest surprise.
What’s at stake is the saving of Mitch’s recession-hit neighborhood. The leader of the band of their biggest rival is the thuggish, unscrupulous landowner/lease holder Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams). He and his goofy sidekick (Garth Kravits) intend to foreclose on the residents and build a strip mall. If Tygen and his band win, they regain the trophy won 20 years ago by Juggernaut. If Juggernaut wins, well, you know, the neighborhood is saved from demolition. What is also at stake is whether Mitch deserves to win back the love of his former high school sweetheart Dani (Michelle Duffy), who has been claimed by Tygen.
Fraser, a two-time Tony nominee as well as a frequent performer at George Street easily takes claim of the stage as Sharon, who is clearly not anyone’s idea of a traditional mom. She takes charge of the band and also of two rock-solid numbers, “Ride On, Cowboy,” and “The Battle of Your Life.” Instead of wondering too much about where the plot is going or not, it’s best to just enjoy the antics of a fine company that sing, cavort, dance, and play (actually pretend, as five splendid musicians do the instrumental performing behind designer Derek McLane’s simply evoked setting of row houses).
Jarvis (in his George Street Playhouse debut), as the impassioned prodigal, raises the musical stakes with his rigorously performed solo “One of the Guys.” It’s good to report that everyone in the cast seems to have taken ownership of their one-dimensional roles.
This show in its world premiere is two and one-half hours, about 30 minutes too long. Some judicious pruning would be helpful especially in the lengthy and rather pathetic audition scene in which a parade of untalented locals appear to be even more unsuitable as contestants for TV’s old “Gong Show.” Also ripe for cutting entirely is the scene that opens Act II in which the band plays a gig at an Orthodox Jewish wedding that is not only unfunny but protracted and tasteless. Any future for this show will depend on how serious the collaborators are about gettin’ down to really puttin’ this band in shape for a gig Off Broadway or for a life on the regional road.
Getting’ The Band Back Together, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. Through Sunday, October 27. $28-$67. 732-246-7717 or www.georgestreetplayhouse.org.