For many of us, the best days of our lives start after high school, and if anyone doubts this, a quick look at the thousands of It Gets Better videos available for online viewing on will correct that misperception. At the same time there are those like Will in the Broadway musical Glory Days, who may spend the rest of their post-high school lives remembering how much better things were back then.

Though Glory Days vanished from the Great White Way as quickly as it came a few years back, Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner’s slice-of-teen-life musical is showing signs of a thriving afterlife in regional theater, especially if future productions are as terrifically staged and performed as the one now gracing the stage at the Lillian Theatre.

It’s Will’s invitation to his three best friends from high school to get together a year after graduation that sets Glory Days’ ninety real-time minutes in motion. The trio that Will (Derek Klena) has invited to the informal reunion are his college roommate Andy (Matthew Koehler), Ivy Leaguer Skip (Alex Robert Holmes), and Jack (Ian Littleworth), who’s gone off who-knows-where. At first the trio are clueless as to why Will has summoned them to the football field, a curious choice given their complete lack of interest in the sport during their high school years. Soon enough, though, Will explains to his friends his plan—to pull one major prank on the football heroes who ostracized them throughout high school, a suggestion which prompts reactions ranging from approval to downright disinterest.

As they get ready to put the plan in motion, the boys catch up on the first year of their post-high school lives. Jack in particular lets drop a personal bombshell, one which will lead to major changes in how each friend sees the other and may quite possibly portend the end of their Four Musketeers Against The World camaraderie.

Younger audiences will likely respond more enthusiastically to Glory Days’ four heroes than over-thirties, who may wonder if these still-too-young-to-drink teens provide enough meat for a ninety-minute musical. After all, isn’t a year out into college rather too short a time to already be looking back at high school with the kind of nostalgia all four boys express in “The Good Old Glory Type Days”? At the same time, Blaemire and Gardiner have created four very real young men whom audiences of all ages will recognize and identify with, and by the time Will closes the show with the sadder-but-wiser (yet still optimistic) “My Next Story,” they are four teenagers we’ve come to know and to care about.

As a vehicle for Blaemire’s catchy, rock-tinged songs and a performance showcase for four up-and-coming musical theater talents, Glory Days is an all-around winner.

In the mere eight months since he made his adult professional debut in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Klena’s trajectory towards stardom has been a swift one. Cast rather against type as Will (the UCLA sophomore’s football hero/prom king looks don’t match the social outcast with a “big Jew nose” sung about in “Good Old Glory Type Days”), Klena nonetheless makes an absolutely stellar impression, dazzling the audience with charm, charisma, and natural acting gifts. In addition, Blaemire’s songs give Klena the chance to show off a rocker’s voice quite different from the legit one his musical theater roles usually afford him. All in all, a star-making performance for the nineteen-year-old.

Supporting performances are equally splendid, Holmes, Koehler, and Littleworth revealing rich, powerful vocals skills and acting chops to match. Skinny shaggy-haired Holmes is a pitch-perfect choice to play group cynic Skip, his terrifically performed “Generation Apathy” an anthem for (and criticism of) the couldn’t-care-less teens of today’s privileged America. Spunky redheaded Koehler is another case of spot-on casting in the role of Andy, the actor revealing the complex mix of betrayal, anger, and confusion felt when a treasured friend turns out not to be the person he’d seemed to be. Recent USC grad Littleworth makes Jack a boy you can’t help but like, rendering Andy’s reaction to his news all the more cruel, and sings “Open Road” with sincerity and depth.

Calvin Remsberg’s incisive, ingenious direction not only brings out the best in his cast but insures that Glory Days never becomes static, the veteran director using Andy Hammer’s absolutely sensational football field set in a variety of inventive ways. Jeremy Pivnick’s gorgeous lighting design is one of his very best, enhancing each and every song and mood with vivid color changes. Costume designer Mara Bear has picked just-right gear for each of the guys to wear. Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound design is a textbook example of how to blend and focus voices and musical accompaniment to best suit each song. The latter comes courtesy of musical director extraordinaire James May, who not only conducts the offstage orchestra to perfection but plays bang-up keyboards as well, with the equally proficient Justin Smith on guitar, Ken Wild on bass, and Brian Boyce on drums.

Glory Days is produced by Anthony Gruppuso, Remsberg, and Tricia Small Stabile. Ronn Goswick is production stage manager.

Glory Days shows just how significant an hour and a half of life can be. With likable characters and songs that cry for a second listening, it makes for an entertaining evening of theater that will bring back memories of just how wonderful (or the opposite of wonderful) high school was for us all.

Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
–Steven Stanley
March 19, 2011
Photos: Nick Stabile

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