My Variety Review: New Musical 'Becoming Nancy' in Atlanta
It’s not that in 2019 gay teens don’t have coming-out issues. But “Becoming Nancy,” a 1979-set musical premiering at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, feels dated, when not being clichéd, lackluster and preachy. It’s like an Afterschool Nothing-Special.
It’s a case of best intentions, positive role models and an uplifting ending proving insufficient when basics such as characters, dialogue and plotting offer little in the way of wit, surprise or enchantment. The top Broadway talents that helm this commercially enhanced production here — led by director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell and designer David Rockwell — are far from the top of their game.
Based on Terry Ronald’s young adult novel, the show (book by Elliot Davis) follows a 17-year-old musical-loving boy named David (Zachary Sayle) who, while navigating his sexual identity, is cast as Nancy in a British school production of “Oliver!” Because his few female classmates have terrible voices, see?
Before you can sing “As Long as He Needs Me,” David — think Billy Elliot with a Broadway fixation — accepts the juicy part. But he soon falls under the spell of Maxie (Jake Boyd), a handsome, self-assured jock who is cast as Bill Sykes in the popular Dickensian musical. (There aren’t any numbers from that luscious score, though songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have some fun referencing just enough notes for a playful tease.)
Besides his seemingly unrequited crush, David has to deal with being relentlessly harassed by schoolmates. At home, his father longs for a more butch lad while his in-denial mum designs his dress and sighs at her exasperated husband. Only David’s Aunt Val (Jessica Volk, very good), his sympathetic drama teacher (Stephen Ashfield, ditto) and best gal-pal Frances (Jasmine Rogers) — who is black and also taunted as another “outsider” — show him any support.