The Human Race Theatre Company concludes its outstanding 25th anniversary season with a terrifically entertaining Midwest premiere of the charming, comical and touching musical “Band Geeks!,” a feel-good collaboration by Tommy Newman, Gordon Greenberg, Gaby Alter and Mark Allen innately recalling “Glee” without being a witless copycat.
Set in the late 1990s in Northeastern Ohio, “Band Geeks!,” perfectly cast with actor-musicians by Human Race producing artistic director Kevin Moore and fluidly directed and meticulously choreographed by Greg Hellems, is a warmly credible slice of life about adolescent oddballs making their way through high school hell as participants of a belittled, underfunded marching band. Whether forced to rehearse in a closet or parking lot, the close-knit, 10-member Cuyahoga High Marching Beavers, striving to uphold its motto that “nobody marches alone,” desperately attempts to remain harmonious despite budget cuts, pessimism from prickly Principal Dixon (Jennifer Joplin), the inclusion of a troubled jock from another school, and the jealousy that arises when puppy love threatens to ruin friendships.
Librettists Greenberg and Newman smoothly frames the simple yet delightfully droll action (accented with giggle-inducing school announcements) around the well-defined, three-dimensional trio of band captain Elliott Goodman (Mykal Kilgore), a shy tubist living in the shadow of his popular meteorologist brother, Laura Jane Kirk (Katie Klaus), a flautist and Elliott’s best friend whose parents prefer her to pursue medicine, and percussionist Jake Fowler (Zach Cossman), whose shady history hinders him from total assimilation. The show is also conceived with predictable teen archetypes from goth to gay with a foreign exchange student thrown in for good measure, but these characters are sharply written with hilarious authenticity. In fact, I wish more of them had solos, particularly flamboyant trombonist Alvin Freeman (an amusing Tyler J. Baranski). Alvin’s colorful opinions and his implied attraction to “Dungeons and Dragons” fan Kyle Watson (Jon Kovach) screams to be sung. Given that band director Mr. Hornsby (John Robert Armstrong) has the weakest material in Newman, Alter and Allen’s largely pleasant and bouncy score, his musical moments should have been transferred to more appealing characters, which extends to Nicole Murray (Sarah Agar, so luminous in Wright State University’s “The Light in the Piazza”), Spitz (Richard Cerato), Natasha Vosavich, (Liz Fye), Stewart Dixon (John Fisher) and Molly Winerman (Jennifer Roehm).
Kilgore, Klaus and Cossman are specifically associated with some of the best musical numbers, which resonated despite muddled, unbalanced sound concerns at the performance attended rendering some lyrics unintelligible. The excellent Kilgore, blessed with an absolutely dynamic, R&B-tinged tenor, leads the toe-tapping “Twirler Girl” (be prepared for his final note!) and joins Cossman for the surprisingly spine-tingling “Loser,” a thrillingly divisive squabble (think “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent”) culminating in unexpectedly tender common ground. The endearingly introverted Klaus, a lovely flautist, belts a genuinely sincere “Lost in the Brass.” Cossman, an impressive drummer who will join Blue Man Group this fall, duly receives applause while spotlighted in the sprightly ensemble number “Team Player.”
In addition, Scott J. Kimmins’ efficient set briskly establishes various locations, particularly transforming rows of bleachers into a school bus. Janet G. Powell’s fine costumes appropriately reflect the era and elevate the finale. Musical director Scot Woolley leads a proficient off stage band.
Truly topical with bubbly tunes and a vital message of self-acceptance and empowerment appealing to every demographic, “Band Geeks!” winningly restores faith in the value of being true to your school and yourself.
“Band Geeks!” continues through June 17 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 58 minutes. Tickets are $18.50-$40. A talkback discussion will take place following the Sunday, June 10 performance. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com