It was sheer coincidence that Gothamist made plans to see the new musical All Good Things at the Fringe Festival the night before Little Stevens Garage Rock Festival, but the timing was sweet. What a great way to get revved up for the big rock show (which also kicked ass, we might add).
We walked into the theatre after seeing another Fringe show that hadnt killed us (Big Trouble in Little Hazzard, if you really want to know), and the setting immediately left us underwhelmed. The Fringe uses all kinds of venues, and this one was a basement in an old church on Carmine Street. There was next to no set or props onstage beyond a drum kit and mike stands, and there were folding chairs for the audience. But once the show started, all of these issues disappeared.
The plot isnt unfamiliar. In fact, if youve seen the movie That Thing You Do, youll feel a real sense of déjà vu. As with that films fictitious Wonders, the play is about a band, The Remains, who have a rapid rise to stardom but quickly burn out before hitting real heights. The Remains formed in 1964 at Boston University, where they had met as dorm mates, quickly gaining a rabid following while playing gigs at the schools Rathskeller. A&R men came sniffing around, and the band signed to Epic Records while still teens, with a hit single quickly following. But fame comes with interpersonal and romantic ups and downs, encounters with foreign substances and groupies, and management problems and a lack of support at the label. The band's big break comes with a chance to open for the Beatles on their last tour of the states in 1966, but they never really achieve major commercial success and disband shortly after that tour.
The play is framed by the now middle-aged drummers present-day recollections, while he is being interviewed by an oldies disc jockey about the band. Played by Jay Greenberg, his voice over gives the show a personal touch. The play was written (by Michael Eric Stein) using as research, interviews conducted with the original band members, and mostly rings true. Though the story of the Remains is cliché laden (band rises to top and quickly comes down), the show is remarkably fresh in spirit. The actors must be commended, for their reenactment of this band is astonishing. The four new Remains all play their own instruments, and have the sound down to a tee. The original Remains idolized the British invasion bands (Beatles, Who, Kinks, etc.) and American blues (Muddy Waters, Willy Dixon, etc.) and found a compelling, fresh way to combine those influences. Their counterparts in the four young actors (Ryan Link, Clayton Fletcher, Anthony Rand, Daniel Hall) have surely practiced together all summer to get this sound and energy just so. More power to them, for we were riveted by the Remains great, timeless songs, played with power and flair. The songs are presented organically (i.e. played in rehearsals, the recording studio, on the Ed Sullivan Show, and so forth), so one shouldnt go in expecting the kind of musical where characters burst into song to express their emotions.
The production values wont blow anyone away here, but the music really transcends all that. The costumes, at least, were convincing in their period detail, as were the somewhat Beatle-esque hair dos. We ultimately realized that there was a charming degree of irony in seeing a play about a garage band in such a primitive setting. If you are into garage bands, youll probably love this show. One quick side note fans of Bruce Springsteen will get a kick out of seeing his longtime manager Jon Landau as a character in this play. He was a Boston rock critic in the sixties, writing for Crawdaddy, and a champion of the band. Of them, he wrote these laudatory words: They were magic. They were how you told a stranger about rock n roll.
You can find more information about the original Remains here. Ticket and scheduling information for All Good Things and other Fringe shows can be found at www.fringenyc.org. Act quickly all good things do come to an end, and the last two performances are Monday at 7:45 PM and Tuesday at 5:00 PM.