Walking into the "Girls Vs. Boys" opening, you're awash in a sea of hyped Wicker Parksters, all ironic cans of PBR and slouchy boots. Infectious, the party atmosphere extends into the theater space, where an ingenious set mimics a club, a pit of milling audience members separating seated area from stage. As the onstage band rips into wild, opening chords, manically dancing cast members slip from the audience, singing their way onstage.
It's all pulse-poundingly fantastic, until you catch a lyric ("The king has an evil twin / If he could look in the mirror he could win") or a snatch of dialogue ("Hey, that's awesome." "Yeah." "Well, awesome." "Yeah."). Two songs in, it's clear. This is no rock opera, this is "Saved By the Bell."
All swagger, no soul, "Girls Vs. Boys" is an affront to all musical-theater fans. It's as if a 15 year-old with his pot dealer on speed-dial was like, "I've eaten all the cheese in the house. Now I'm going to write a musical. Can't be that hard."
Here's as much of the plot as I can bear describing: Seems some dude (Tyler Ravelson) is off his pills, searching a college party for his freshman sister (Dillan Arrick), while another dude (Joel Gross) who impregnated some chick (Nicky Scheunke) is now with this other chick (Whitney White) and sometimes? If one of the dudes or chicks is singing? And things get really, you know, emotional? There's a key change, 'cause that makes shit rilly intense. When belting doesn't get the job done, the kids whip out their bedazzled pistols and aim them at each other, like "Puttin' on the Ritz" meets "A Clockwork Orange," with Simon, Ellen and Randy sipping from giant cups of Coke.
The enthusiastic cast is having such a fantastic time that it's hard to begrudge them, but really guys, just because you're swinging from scaffolding doesn't mean you're staring in "Jesus Christ Superstar"...or "Rent"...or even "Tick Tick Boom." Musical theater at its best is life-altering, the result of endless revisions, passion, talent, an overarching theme, some grasp of grammar and syntax. Rose petals, a disco ball, wailing guitars and glitz-doused skinny jeans don't cut it. You can't pose your way to the sublime.
Rather than take my word for it, allow the show's lyrics to speak for themselves: "Look, there's my knee / and I mean it to be / for his hand to go there."
Take that, Tim Rice.