Curt Hansen as Mike and Ryder Bach as Will in Girlfriend
at Actors Theatre. Photo by Alan Simons.


Book by Todd Almond
Music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet
Directed by Les Waters 

Reviewed by Carlos-Manuel

Copyright © 2013 Carlos-Manuel. All rights reserved.

In life, many of us experience emotional incidents that we learn to put behind us, and if those experiences suddenly surface to the forefront of our memories, we brush them off as quickly as possible and move on.

That is what I’ve done all my life and to be perfectly honest, I have been very successful at it…. until last night, when I attended the opening night of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s production of Girlfriend under the seamless direction by ATL’s artistic director, Les Waters.

Within the first ten minutes of the play, two very emotional memories connected me to the lives of the two young teenage characters of the play and inundated my entire being. As I watched the production and became part of the story presented by Will (Ryder Bach) and Mike (Curt Hansen), a knot formed in my throat and through the duration of the play, I fought back the tears.

It isn’t that Girlfriendis a sad play or a tragedy. On the contrary, the musical is full of love, laughter, and hope. But rather that the story is so much of part of our lives that you cannot help to remember what it feels to be in the situation in which the characters find themselves.

Girlfriend is musical with book by Todd Almond; music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet. But unlike most traditional American musicals, this work concentrates on the boys-meets-boy love story. And even then, the love story is so filled with tension and awkwardness that it suddenly becomes everyone’s love story. And I say this because if you ever were attracted to someone while you were in high school or in college, despite the “boy-meets-boy” theme, Girlfriend is about you.

In this musical there are only two characters on stage, and they are both equally represented by two talented actors who have the most amazing combination of chemistry and comedic timing that I’ve seen in a very long time. They are accompanied by a live band, which is located at the back of the stage (as if they were in someone’s garage), but their presence is so important to the story, that each song, whether performed by the actors or the band or everyone, becomes an important element that helps the characters express their innermost feelings while helping the plot move forward—no song is wasted and no musical note is sung without purpose.

The set is simple, in fact, almost none existent, except for a very long wall that extends from one side of the stage to the other. The “garage band” is dead center of the wall and in front of the wall a steel frame brings depth and separation between two different houses. On one side of the stage, a small five-drawer dresser represents Mike’s bedroom while on the other side, a sleeping bag and a lamp is Will’s room. Center stage, a pull-out bed couch becomes the common living room and most importantly, Mike’s car, (a Subaru). The rest is left to the imagination and under Less Waters’, (Obie Award Winner) superb direction; we are taken on a nostalgic ride that continues hours after the show has ended.

The story in Girlfriendis a simple “coming of age story” story, but to say that the ATL’s production is simple would be a travesty because the production is so well crafted, with all artistic elements—lights, sound, costumes, sets, props—perfectly falling into place. The singing by the band is very good and the musical interpretations, along with the acting, are stupendous. However, what really makes this a memorable production is the directing. It is seamless, and clean, filled with anticipation and dramatic tension, with order and purpose, with moments of hope, of realization, awkwardness, and happiness. Every move, every look, every gesture has been perfectly planned and executed; all that is said and done has a meaning which goes beyond what we see or hear.

This is the reason why Girlfriendgrabs you from the moment it stars to the moment it ends and then stays with you as you make your way to the lobby. It isn’t only the story, the acting, the singing and the high artistic values of the show but the exquisite direction of a veteran theatre artist that makes this show memorable.

Now, if you wonder about the two experiences that this show brought into the forefront of my memories, I can tell you that one has to do with A Beautiful Thing, a British film based on the play by Jonathan Harvey. I encountered this film by mistake while walking the streets of Albuquerque, NM, feeling lonely and sorry for myself. Yet, as in Girlfriend, I found hope once I saw the film. The second experience happened to me while being a freshman in college; and it happened with the captain of a certain college sports team.  So yes, ATL’s production of the musical Girlfriendgrabbed my heart, filled it with nostalgia and forced me to recall memories I have often brushed off because they are emotionally powerful. Yet the show also made me smile, and laugh, be thankful for being in love, and just like the Mike and Will of the story, be happy and grateful as I slowly walk into the sunset, holding the hand of the man I love.


January 29 – February 17, 2013

Actors Theatre of Louisville

316 West Main Street

Louisville, KY 40202