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There isn’t much going on in Steubenville, Ohio, and, television being what it is, American Idol has sparked cultish worship of the singer Clay Aiken, one of the talent show’s most successful alumni. An oddly assorted group meet in a broken-down garage, an outsize cardboard cut-out of their idol in their midst. Enrobed like monks, they have the star’s original audition number for the show hung round their necks. But although the musical’s title suggests Aiken is an important participatory, if not an actually appearing, character, it’s just a flimsy peg on which to hang the personal preoccupations of these pre-graduation youngsters, and pretty well falls apart after the opening. They are totally engrossed in their own odd if humdrum lives.
Enter the self-deluding Adrienne (Katsy Reinsel), an ignominiously rejected contestant of the Idol show who assumes star status among her peers. The fact that Aiken might visit their small town on tour prompts them, with Adrienne’s goading, to try to put together a new opening act for him, intended to earn 15 minutes of fame for all, but which she will, in turn, pre-empt for herself.
The idea is promising and it might have worked if Bill Boland’s book and lyrics (with Todd Ellis) hadn’t been so muddled, his characters so stereotyped and Dan Tursi’s direction so slack. Almost every other minute is cue for one of the 15 numbers, Jon Balcourt’s music and lyrics spanning popular modes, from country and western to pop and salsa.
Dawn Barry’s overweight, undertalented, over-the-hill Broadway wannabe is perhaps the least believable of the 10 characters. Joe Walker as an energy-driven basketball jock dances convincingly (choreography uncredited). Reinsel projects with professional assurance as the plumply glamorous, conniving Adrienne and Philip Deyesso in his “Family of Misfits” (supposedly reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire”) breaks out of an ill-conceived role really to entertain. But there’s no other way to say it: although you don’t expect Off Broadway always to be great, this Idol definitely has feet of clay.
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