BWW Reviews: New Musical NERDS Takes on Raleigh
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by Larisa Mount
The new musical comedy, NERDS, is trying to make its way to Broadway, and it's starting out right here in Raleigh. This is a great opportunity for the Triangle theater community, and the show is absolutely worth a trip downtown.
The show follows Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen on their rise to tech geek stardom. It opens with the fabulous number, "I Hope I Win," featuring the ensemble cast as they compete to see who has the most innovative technological creation at the Homebrew Computer Club. Jobs and Wozniak win that battle, but the competition doesn't end there. In a based-on-reality story that takes plenty of comedic liberties, NERDS takes us through all the ups and downs in the rise of Microsoft and Apple from 1975 to the present. True technophiles will appreciate the show just as much as those of us who primarily use their iPhones to play Pocket Frogs (this reporter is guilty as charged). The material could have easily gone to an esoteric place, but the book and lyrics (by Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner) prove to be light and accessible for all theatergoers. The show has some more serious moments, but in general is a light-hearted and delightful comedy. The strength of the show lies in the primary plotline and the subplot about a girl geek named Myrtle - there is an Italian clown storyline, however, that feels like a last-minute attempt to add humor to Act II, and which I hope won't follow this show into its next production. Kudos must be given, however, to actor Cole Escola, who made the most out of a role no one should have had in the first place.
North Carolina Theatre has managed to put together a rare-for-Raleigh A-List cast of Broadway and other New York actors, all of whom are supremely talented. As the leaders of the technological revolution, Stanley Bahorek and Darren Ritchie were well-suited to play Gates and Jobs, respectively. As Jobs' love interest, Sally, Diana DeGarmo shows off her comedy and vocal chops. Shining from a supporting role was the brilliant Leslie Kritzer as Myrtle. Myrtle's character gets big laughs in the opening number, and just keeps getting funnier as the show goes on. "Let's Merge," featuring Kritzer's Myrtle and Bahorek's Bill Gates, is a gem. If there were a spin-off called "The Myrtle Show," I would spend good money to see that. Kritzer's comedic timing and belty voice were the perfect combination for the role, and her performance is easily one of the best seen on any Triangle stage in the past year.
One of the most impressive elements of NERDS is the creative team's ability to showcase women who prove that "nerdy" and "pretty" are not mutually exclusive. Despite the cast featuring only two women, DeGarmo and Kritzer prove that nerd girls have all the fun. They are strong female characters who think for themselves and are unapologetic about who they are. Songs featuring those two ladies are absolute highlights in the show, namely "I Always Thought the Last One Would be You," and the save-the-best-for-last "I Wanna Get Down and Nerdy" during the curtain call, both of which feature DeGarmo and Kritzer.
Despite a few kinks (a prop malfunction and a less-than-impressive rap to end the first act), NERDS is a show with clear audience appeal and a bright future. The cast is stellar, the set is creative, and the writing is funny. All in all, it's a success.
NERDS, presented by NC Theatre, runs through February 3rd at the A.J. Fletcher Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, visit www.nctheatre.com.
Photo credit: Curtis Brown Photography