Kid Victory

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Kid Victory

Vineyard Theatre, NYC, February 25, 2017
Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Ambitious, intelligent, and beautifully nuanced, Kid Victory—by John Kander and Greg Pierce—is the most intriguing new musical I’ve seen in a long time. It is playing a limited engagement at the Vineyard Theatre, Off-Broadway in New York City, through March 19th. I hope a way can be found for it to extend or transfer—perhaps to a small Broadway house—because it is far too important a work to have only a four-week run. It is not a “happy,” “feel-good,” commercial kind of show. It will not be every person’s cup of tea. But it is a significant, honest, insightful and often surprising new musical. It kept me interested throughout. Kander’s music is good for my soul. (No living theater composer has given me more pleasure.) I’m eager to see Kid Victory again, and eager to become familiar with the cast album.
Years ago, composer John Kander and his late. longtime collaborator, lyricist Fred Ebb, told me in an interview that they did not want to create shows that felt like mere copies of their previous shows; they wanted fresh challenges with each production. In their long career, they created an extraordinary body of work, and each of their musicals—Cabaret, Chicago,The Act, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, Curtains, The Scottsboro Boys, etc.—has its own unique feel. Kander has kept that admirable tradition going. In style and tone, Kid Victory is unlike any previous show he has done. It feels very much of our time, while containing—as all Kander shows do—enjoyable nods to the past.  
Brandon Flynn (L) &
Jeffrey Denman

The bracing story, jointly created by Kander and Pierce, deals with a Midwestern youth who’d been abducted by a deranged predator. He is back home, after being gone for almost a year. His rigid, highly religious mother wants everything “back to normal”—with his returning to school, church, his old friends and girlfriend—as soon as possible. But it is not easy for him to even speak to anyone, and he hasn’t yet sorted out his own feelings. Others seem far more certain than he as to what he should be doing with his life. This is the only musical I’ve ever seen in which the protagonist—who’s often feeling trapped—doesn’t get to sing at all, while everyone else does. Flashbacks gradually show us more and more of what he experienced in the time he was away. I don’t want to write more plot details, because I don’t want to spoil the surprises for potential audience members. 

But I give Kander and Pierce a lot of credit. It would have been very easy to create simplistic, stock characters, wholly good or wholly evil. But subtleties give this show its strength; the writers have caught the ambiguities, uncertainties, and ambivalences of real life. Characters are etched with compassion and understanding. The yearnings, desires, and motivations of both the youth and his captor are delineated well. The story is told clearly. Pierce’s libretto is strong; this could have worked as a straight  play—although, of course, the songs make it richer. There’s a good balance between spoken dialog and song. All characters get their due.  
Daniel Jenkins (L) & Brandon Flynn

The nine actors, directed by Liesl Tommy, have been very well cast: Karen Ziemba, as the youth’s mother and Daniel Jenkins, as the father, helped give the show a firm foundation from the start. Newcomer Brandon Flynn carries off well the demanding role of the youth who’s struggling with so much. Dee Roscioli added warmth and comic relief. Jeffrey Denman handled persuasively the role of the captor. And newcomer Blake Zolfo shone brightly in a small but essential role. He also gets to sing and dance with great insouciance, one of the best numbers in the score, “What’s the Point?.”

The show runs an hour-and-forty-five-minutes without an intermission, which feels just about right. I wish the cop’s jauntily sung interrogation of the youth could have gone on just a bit longer; that engaging musical number was cut off too quickly. And I wish there were a way to shoehorn one more lively number into that score, which is beautiful but, often, due to the subject matter, understandably subdued. But I was enthralled from the first notes of the score. The 10-piece orchestra played Kander’s music superbly.  
This show is welcome addition to the theater season.

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: