One should not ruin a perfectly good country album by building a bad musical around it.
Let’s back up. Now and Then is a new musical playing at Pride Arts Center, produced by Now & Then Productions. The story behind the show is that composer Dennis Manning met director and book writer Ronnie Larsen at a show, and after Larsen took an interest in Manning’s songwriting, he wrote a musical using some of Manning’s songs. The unfortunate result is a mashup of fantastic songs with poor, uninspired storytelling.
The story of the Now and Then is that of two men, Daniel and Greg, from their first meeting in college to their sixties. Six actors play the two men at different periods in their lives. The concept of the show, by its nature, eliminates the possibility of women characters and because the production chose to make both Greg and Daniel white, they eliminated the possibility of including any actors of color either, locking the show into a lack of a diversity.
Greg and Daniel meet at an open mic night, where Daniel, dressed in a cowboy hat and boots, blows the audience away with a beautiful song called “Solitary Man” and Daniel makes a series of bad and increasingly offensive jokes as host. With all the charm of a used tampon, Greg attempts to seduce Daniel, using such fun and flirty tactics as insulting him and joking about pedophilia in the Catholic Church (which, for the record, is never funny). While Will Fulginiti is perfectly charismatic as Daniel 1, it’s difficult to judge Benjamin Walton’s performance as Greg 1, since the character is so profoundly unpleasant. I will say, though, that the two have about as much chemistry as Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright in the Harry Potter movies—that is to say, none. And since they’re the couple that’s supposed to show us the love that their later iterations are fighting for as they deal with money problems, illness, and alcoholism, it makes it hard to root for any of them to stay together.
It doesn’t help that the middle-aged versions of Greg and Daniel are stuck with some deeply boring conflicts. They argue about such thrilling and unexplored topics as Daniel’s constant lateness, his drinking, his coming home late, and his thwarted dreams of becoming a famous musician and Greg’s frustration at having to support him through his bad behavior. In Act Two, the story gets so cliché as to use a Christmas tree and the device of multiple Christmases to demonstrate the relationship’s change over time. If only there were other annually recurring holidays or moments in a couple’s life—like anniversaries or birthdays—they could have used instead. The design choices are relatively uninspired as well, from the plain, multi-level set to the melodramatic overuse of red lighting in any moment of intense emotion.
The whole story feels flat and dull, which is extra disappointing because the music is gorgeous. From “Solitary Man” at the top and close of the show, to heartfelt love songs, angry fight songs, and sad, lonely songs, every tune is a gem, and the six actors, accompanied only by the guitars played by the three Daniels, manage to fill the space with their rich, resonant voices. I found myself toe-tapping along to every song, and, to return to my opening statement, I would enthusiastically buy and listen to this show if it were just a country album.
As it turns out, there is a cast album available. Save yourself some money and two hours of unengaging story and just listen to that instead.
Location: Pride Arts Center – The Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway
Regular Run: July 17 – August 11, 2019
Times: Evening performances Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7 pm; matinees Saturdays at 4 pm and Sundays at 3 pm
Tickets: Premium front row seats $50, general admission seats $35. Tickets available online at the Now and Then Musical website.
All photos by Ronnie Larsen.