Kander and Pierce have given their small show an intimate chamber musical feel which adds to the intensity of the drama. Director Liesl Tommy’s direction keeps the ominous mood continually rising. The musical unfolds as a mystery in which we are fed flashbacks which eventually reveal the true horror of the event. We first see Luke chained to a basement wall. Next we meet Luke after he has been back home three weeks and is having trouble readjusting to his old life with his religious mother Eileen and silent, aloof father Joseph, and picking up where he left off as a high school student.
His refusal to return to school, get more involved with their church or see his former girl friend bothers his mother a great deal. For Luke who spent most of a year in a quiet room, these emotional and noisy encounters are out of the question. Against his mother’s wishes he gets a job helping the bohemian Emily, owner of the lawn store, Wicker Witch of the West.
Unfortunately, Luke can’t forget about his experiences the past year. We piece together that using the online name Kid Victory, Luke played a game called Regatta 500 where he meets Michael who he doesn’t know is a fired history teacher and twice his age. When they finally meet, Michael drugs him and takes him to his private island. There Michael reveals a split personality. In his head, Luke still finds he is in Michael’s basement: the chains and the mattress remain on stage throughout. Kander and Pierce have assigned songs to all of the other eight actors but Luke never sings at any time during the show.
While this story of teenage abduction and probable abuse (this is left vague and unclear) is ripped from the headlines of today’s tabloids, Kid Victory feels like a play with music even though there are 17 musical numbers. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations which include viola, cello and bass give the score a very mellow sound. The score with music by Kander lyrics by Pierce is lovely though the songs are so integrated into their original plot that they would probably not work elsewhere.
Clint Ramos’ unit set (atmospherically lit by David Weiner) has three rooms side by side which allows for swift transitions in which Luke glides from one space to another, both in his current life and back in his memories. The appropriate costumes by Jacob A. Climer make the characters look like ordinary, everyday people which add to the tension of the story.
The cast is superb in what they are asked to do. As the traumatized 17-year-old, Brandon Flynn gives a performance on a par with that of Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen, another story of a troubled youth caught up in a situation beyond his control. Rarely showing his emotions except in rare moments of severe stress, Flynn makes Luke’s ordeal and anguish truly believable.
As his overly protective and religious mother, Karen Ziemba beautifully delineates the self-righteous woman for whom there is no other way than the one she has been brought up in. In a more villainous role than he usually plays, Jeffry Denman is charming as the seemingly innocuous sociopathic Michael who turns out to have more than one personality.
As Luke’s vivacious boss, Dee Roscioli lights up all of her scenes in this story which does not have too much comic relief. Daniel Jenkins makes Luke’s father a brooding, silent presence who allows his wife full rein in the household. The cast also includes Ann Arvia, Joel Blum, Laura Darrell and Blake Zolfo as various members of the community who also make up the chorus which comments on the action in song. Following Kander and Pierce’s first collaboration, the three part The Landing, also seen in NYC at the Vineyard, their new show, Kid Victory, is for minority tastes but will keep you riveted to your seat if you have the stomach for the strong content.
Kid Victory (through March 19, 2017)
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3501 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission