Sunday, June 19, 2022

“Bruce” – A Musical About Tension With Absolutely No Tension

Jarrod Spector and E. Faye Butler in Bruce (Lindsay Thomas)
Seattle Rep
Through June 26, 2022
My question before I saw the world premiere musical, Bruce, at Seattle Rep was: What is it? And my question after I saw it was: Why?
So, quick rundown: “Bruce” equals JAWS the movie, the shark named by director Steven Spielberg when he was just 26 years old as he began planning it from the script, and The JAWS Log by last-script-doctor Carl Gottlieb as he worked on the film and subsequently published a book.
The musical is not a “bad” one… and in fact there are some very, very good parts. So, it’s not that it’s boring, exactly. But the entire musical is about the “making” of the movie we all know was a major blockbuster, the first summer blockbuster ever, and a world-wide phenomenon. But does that mean it should then get turned into a musical? Be worked on by people for several years? Have tens of thousands of dollars spent on it?
My other question is: Who is it “for?” My only guess on that is that the writers, Richard Oberacker on score, Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker on book and lyrics, think that because it’s about a beloved blockbuster that their musical recap will draw a similar blockbuster audience who loved the film and maybe the book.
The production, helmed by Donna Feore, is sufficient. The cast is lovely for the most part, filled with Seattle musical theater stars we love like Timothy McCuen Piggee, Beth DeVries, Matt Wolfe. Tiny roles, all played by MJ Jurgensen whose comedic timing I adore, were some of the most fun.
Some hired-from-out-of-towners, like E. Faye Butler, and David Benoit, gave a big lift to the quality of the musical. We have seen Butler on our stage recently pre-covid with blockbuster style belting in Fannie and Pullman Porter Blues.
Ramzi Khalaf completely transformed into a hysterical rendition of an homage to Ricky (Richard) Dreyfuss. He says he’s recently graduated from Julliard, so he’s off to a great start.
But the standout, and really the only reason that this world premiere works almost at all, is the star, Jarrod Spector. He plays 26-year-old Spielberg as passionate, funny, scared, awed, overwhelmed, intense, and brilliantly inventive.
Spector’s credits include playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on Broadway itself (as opposed to a touring company). That means he can SING. That role is brutal, soprano-ish, and exhausting. Yet, in this production, he modulates his voice to be… “plain” … unadorned and simple. Few vocal tricks, not much vibrato, and it sounds lovely! It fits a non-singing Spielberg perfectly. He’s also a joy to watch.
There are some jokes in the production, and a set-reveal that audiences like but that doesn’t do a thing to help the musical, at this point. After all the non-drama about the drama of making a movie that almost never got made is finished off, it ends with the most boring coda recap of all the ways that JAWS “changed the world forever” (the last song), staged so pedantically that it makes it even more useless.
If you’re a JAWS fan, by all means, get yourself over there now. If you’re curious, sure! But if you’re unsure or time- or cash-strapped, you probably don’t want to waste the ticket.
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