MOM THEATRE BLOGGER: John & Jen: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
The Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning Keen Company is presenting the first New York revival of John & Jen, the musical with music by Andrew Lippa, lyrics by Tom Greenwald, and a book by Greenwald and Lippa. Performances began February 10th at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues), and it runs through April 4th.
The musical stars star Kate Baldwin as Jen (Tony Award nominee, Finian’s Rainbow) and Conor Ryan as John (most recently seen in The Fortress of Solitude at The Public Theater and the Broadway production of Cinderella).
Jonathan Silverstein, Keen Artistic Director directs, with musical staging by Christine O’Grady and music direction by Lily Ling. John & Jen has scenic design by Steven Kemp, costume design by Sydney Maresca, lighting design by Josh Bradford and sound design by Julian Evans. This production includes the premiere of a new song, “Trouble with Men.”
Kate Baldwin’s Broadway credits include Big Fish, Finian’s Rainbow (Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations), Wonderful Town, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and The Full Monty. Off-Broadway: Giant (Public Theatre; Drama Desk Award nomination.). Other NY credits: Opening Doors at Zankel Hall, five Encores!. Regional: Can Can (Paper Mill), A Little Night Music (Berkshire Theater Festival), Giant (Dallas Theater Center), The Women (Old Globe), The Music Man and South Pacific (Hayes nomination; Arena Stage), She Loves Me (IRNE nomination; Huntington Theatre/Williamstown Theatre Festival), Henry V (Shakespeare Theatre of NJ). Tour: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Concerts: Chicago Humanities Festival, NSO, PSO and the American Songbook Series. TV: “Law & Order: SVU;” PBS: “Live From Lincoln Center: Stephen Sondheim’s Passion.” Recording: Let’s See What Happens (PS Classics).
Conor Ryan recently made his Broadway debut as part of the ensemble and as the understudy for Prince Topher in the Broadway production of Cinderella. Most recently, Off-Broadway audiences have seen him in The Fortress of Solitude at The Public Theater. His regional credits include West Virginia Public Theatre. His training includes a BFA in Musical Theatre from University of Michigan, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School.
Both turn in solid performances. This is a touching story of a protective older sister (Jen) and baby brother (John), who grow up with a heavy-handed father. Jen vows to watch over John, but ultimately yearns to escape from their difficult home life and goes off to college leaving John to “hold down the fort.” He falters in his coping confidence and winds up enlisting in the military to make his father proud. (spoiler alert) He is killed in the line of duty in Vietnam, and Jen has to live with the guilt of feeling like she turned her back on him. In Act II, Jen is now a single mother with her own son, named John, and she continues to be haunted by her deceased brother’s memory, raising her son in his shadow. Her son, himself, feels the burden of having to fill his uncle’s army boots, while at the same time become his own person and love and support his mother without reinforcing a co-dependency.
When the show opens, Jen is six, doting on her baby brother, and we see both age as the play goes on, changing costumes and mannerisms along the way. Ryan is playful and endearing, and Baldwin is affecting and earnest. She is particularly strong in Act II as she comes unraveled, and we witness what could have potentially and interestingly been presented as more of a psychological portrait of a sister/mom living with enormous angst and guilt….had the playwright chosen to explore this with greater depth.
They actors interact convincingly and take us on a revealing ride re: the skeletons in our closet and the strong influence our upbringing has on us. While not a captivating show, it will tug at your heartstrings at times, and as the mother of a 12 year old, it rang home the importance of letting your child detach and soar.
To purchase tickets you may go to the Theatre Row Box Office, visit Telecharge.com or call 212/239-6200 (telephone and internet service charges will apply).