Edge Media Network: Burn All Night

Publication date: 
August 29, 2017
Author: 
Robert Nesti

We spend a lot of time these days in dystopian worlds, be they ones with zombies on television ("Walking Dead"), teenaged political outcasts at the movies ("The Hunger Games"), so why not at the theater with a dystopian musical with doomed millennials? Such is "Burn All Night," the deftly staged, hugely entertaining and not-quite-there yet musical at Oberon through September 8. The world premiere boasts an infectious score and a sleek production that more than makes up for a story line that never quite resolves the emotional themes it introduces and builds on. The book is by actor/musician Andy Mientus and music and lyrics are by Van Hughes, Nicholas LaGrasta and Brett Moses (from the Brooklyn synth-pop band Teen Commandments). 

Perhaps the biggest problem is a story we've been here before in countless indie movies about 20-somethings struggling in New York, which takes up the musical's first half; in the second an apocalyptic event occurs, plunging New York into darkness and its millennial characters into confusion, not that they weren't confused enough. 

The narrative spins around four of them: Bobby (Lincoln Clauss), a newbie from Pittsburgh; his grammar school friend Holly (Krystina Alabado), who puts him up in the apartment she lives in with her musician boyfriend Zak (Kenneth Clark). At one of Zak's club appearances, Bobby starts a bromance with Will (Perry Sherman), a trust fund kid and wannabe artist; but it turns out Will's motives for the friendship prove a bit devious -- he uses Bobby to get close to Holly.

His reason is disclosed midway through the first act, which pretty much chronicles the outer actions and inner yearnings of these four. Midway through the earth shakes, the lights go out and anxiety rules -- is this a harbinger of the End Times or just some seismic anomaly? In the meanwhile, will Bobby realize he's been played by Will, and will secrets and lies that underlie the relationships be disclosed between the aftershocks?

That those interpersonal aftershocks don't add up to all that much is main reason the musical doesn't reach the epiphany it strives for. The musical so easily breaks down the fourth wall that the show is something of a dance party, much in the same way "The Donkey Show" (which shares the space with this show) does. Like that staging, director Jenny Koons uses every inch of Oberon, skillfully utilizes moving set pieces on the dance floor while the actors perform on them, as well as a mainstage that features the band and, often enough, the talented ensemble in Sam Pinkleton's buoyant dance patterns. 

The cast is first-rate: Clauss has the requisite boyishness of a kid arriving in the big city for the first time; Alabado conveys Holly's conflicted emotions ably; Clark brings pathos to the angsty musician; and Sherman plays Will with the right mix of coolness and vulnerability. They are strong vocalists; indeed the musical performances and the kinetic staging are what "Burn All Night" special, despite the fact that Mientus's narrative gets lost in the post-Apocalyptic dark. He get points for gently parodying the self-absorbed ways of its millennials, while making them likable; too bad he doesn't build their story to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. But there's much fun to be had in its current iteration, which has catchy, pop-synthed songs beautifully sung by the company and a staging that can't help but bring the audience into the action. As an immersive experience, "Burn All Night" hits its mark; as a musical, it needs work.

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