Review: Girlfriend at Actors Theatre

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Review: Girlfriend at Actors Theatre

A musical, centered around the songs from a 1990's album, about the relationship of two high school boys who struggle to fit in with their small-town peers.

That is what Actors Theatre has to offer?
 
Yes. And it is terrific.
 
Girlfriend is a musical, but aside from the onstage band and the singing, one might not notice. It is subtle in ways unlike most other musicals. The songs here are integrated well; they are pulled from the story rather than being forced upon it.
 
There is minimal choreography; and that which does exist seems to flow naturally from the action, aside from one early scene at the drive-in theater when Mike’s movements become suddenly rhythmic.
 
The show was written by Todd Almond, who created it using Matthew Sweet’s 1991 alternative-rock album, Girlfriend, to guide the story.
 
The onstage band, led by Musical Director Julie Wolf, is a stellar compliment to the action. These women are solid musicians and effective stage partners as they come together to represent the vital third character.
 
It is the music, after all, which brings Will and Mike together. These graduating seniors walk in different circles; one an athlete and a serious student; the other a directionless but loveable nerd. They share an affinity for music, and when Mike reaches out to Will in the form of a mix tape, a bond begins to form. 
 
At times, the production is big—loud and exciting and energetic, but then quickly slips back to its small, quiet space; focused on the uncertainty of two young people who are trying to figure out what comes next.
 
And just when the audience is nearing the precipice of sensitive-teen overload, Almond zings them from the edge with a well-placed one liner, sending the entire audience into peals of laughter and quickly changing the momentum.
 
Ryder Bach (Will) is perfect. He has captured the essence of the awkward but clever teen in everything from his speech patterns to the way he holds his arms. And his earnest delivery of Todd Almond’s crafty script endears him to the audience from the first moment.
 
Curt Hansen as Mike, is strong and determined. He thinks he knows what he wants, until he is plagued with the moments of uncertainty and confusion that all teens face. Hansen’s natural charisma and strong voice provide an energetic presence.
 
And the two actors together? Aces. The intensity of Hansen and the delivery of Bach make for a formidable duo. And watching Mike watch Will is one of the best parts of the show. 
 
Though this is only the second full production of Girlfriend (Artistic Director Les Waters also directed the premiere at Berkeley Rep in 2010), it won’t be the last. 
 
Actors Theatre’s production of Todd Almond and Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend will help you remember what it was like to be young. And it will leave you with a smile on your face.
 
Girlfriend, directed by Les Waters and sponsored by Brown-Forman, runs through February 17th. Tickets start at $30 and are available online or by calling the Actors Theatre box office at 502-584-1205. Actors Theatre offers several discount ticket options which can be viewed here
 
Image: Courtesy Actors Theatre
About Michelle Rynbrandt
Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.
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