No matter evolutionary beneficial properties have been made within the jukebox musical since “Mamma Mia!” arrived on the flip of the millennium with out a thought in its moneymaking head have been erased by “Invincible,” the musical that mixes and matches Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with the music catalog of ’80s rocker Pat Benatar.
Studies of the dying of the jukebox type by theater critics are usually extra of a want than an empirical remark. However this newest incarnation deserves to topple your complete class.
Producers won’t ever cease making an attempt to show yesterday’s Prime 40 hits into Broadway gold. Not even essentially the most egregious catastrophe can thwart a would-be theater mogul with an oldies yen. However the lie is out.
“Invincible,” which is making an attempt unsuccessfully to drag itself collectively on the Wallis Annenberg Middle for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, reveals the creative absurdity of pondering that unrelated songs may be readily stitched right into a seamless musical story. Benatar and her longtime music collaborator (and husband) Neil Giraldo might not just like the jukebox label, however they’ve fallen straight into the style’s entice.
The musical, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, at instances looks as if a malfunctioning karaoke machine. Tunes are triggered virtually at random. Earlier than the viewers has its bearings, “Hell Is for Children” is blaring meaninglessly onto a set that’s meant to be “modern, post-war Verona” however seems extra like Stalingrad underneath a disco strobe mild.
Bradley Bredeweg, who wrote the present’s e book, must be indicted for crimes towards Shakespeare. It’s not merely the sentimental rewriting of one of the vital well-known tragic endings in literary historical past. (Let’s simply say Romeo and Juliet will now have the prospect to understand that they precipitated an entire lot of hullabaloo over adolescent hormones and are most likely not all that appropriate.) The storytelling is far and wide tonally and temporally.
Characters communicate in fashionable slang, Shakespearean verse, ’80s pop lyrics and that timeless argot of clumsy melodrama. The world that’s created is senseless. Riot gear meets scimitar within the streets of Verona, the place the civil warfare between the Montagues and the Capulets has technically ended however hostilities persist in a musical no man’s land.
I assumed the nadir of my theatergoing 12 months was safely behind me. However the Wallis has plunged me again to depths I haven’t skilled for the reason that Beverly Hills venue’s ghastly manufacturing of “King Lear” within the spring.
In that overview, I used to be thrust into the position of coroner, analyzing the wreckage to determine how such a horrible destiny may have befallen Shakespeare’s masterpiece. My duties listed below are much less forensic however no much less solemn. As undertaker of “Invincible,” I’ve determined it might be greatest to proceed with a closed casket.
There’s no level in rehashing a musical that dips into “Romeo and Juliet” as if it have been a salad bar that may very well be loved in any mixture. Twists within the plot, when not inducing laughter, elicit little greater than a yawn. However how may it’s in any other case when the story is in continuous service to a music catalog that appears to come back from a completely completely different aesthetic universe?
I haven’t but seen “& Juliet,” the comedian riff on Shakespeare’s tragedy set to songs by powerhouse Swedish hitmaker Max Martin that has earned plaudits on Broadway this season. Maybe the trick is to rework the fabric right into a zany romp?
However “The Last Goodbye,” a extra conventional jukebox remodeling of “Romeo and Juliet,” wasn’t ready to determine the method. And that present had the benefit of the moody music of Jeff Buckley, which at the least appeared like one thing Shakespeare’s ill-starred younger lovers would possibly stream into their earbuds when alone at night time, obsessing over one another.
Though Romeo (Khamary Rose) and Juliet (Kay Sibal) of “Invincible” have a lot in widespread — each have cruelly misplaced their fathers, and each are contending with overcontrolling moms — they hardly appear made for one another. The difficulty is stage chemistry, however then it’s not straightforward for them to tenderly relate with all of the singing and dancing needlessly breaking out round them.
The character of Paris, who in Shakespeare is the person Juliet’s mother and father insist she marry, is given an expanded position that features a conspiratorial backstory. This political cad has designs on Juliet’s household fortune, however there’s no want to fret. Brennin Hunt, sauntering throughout the stage with a dazed and confused expression, turns Paris right into a self-preening cipher.
I used to be frankly surprised by the picket high quality of the ensemble. If the Razzies included theater, “Invincible” could be one of many 12 months’s large winners. (Hunt would safe my vote, although Jon Patrick Walker, who performs the meddlesome Friar as a sort of middle-aged surfer dude, could be a powerful runner-up.)
However fine-tuned characterizations aren’t the precedence. These performers will need to have been chosen for his or her singing prowess. And in that respect, they don’t disappoint. The vocal chops of the corporate had me imagining a casting name for “The Voice.”
I grew up on Benatar’s music, and although I don’t have any tracks in my music library, I couldn’t assist lip-syncing alongside to her still-inescapable hits. The present, sadly, shoehorns in too many songs. And even the numbers that lend themselves to the thematic materials (“Love Is a Battlefield,” “Shadows of the Night,” “Heartbreaker,” “We Belong”) fail to poetically resonate.
However that’s as a result of the hooks and the grooves are designed for a unique goal. All of the retooling on the planet can’t disguise this fundamental reality. Jukebox musicals can typically be giddy enjoyable, however there are creative limits that have to be confronted.
The place: Wallis Annenberg Middle for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays by Fridays, 2 and seven:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and seven p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 18.
Info: (310) 746-4000 or thewallis.org
Working time: Approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission
COVID protocol: Masks are strongly really useful.