Matthew Sweet's 1991 rock album, "Girlfriend," was parlayed into an intimate two-character musical, which originally bowed at Berkeley Rep in 2010. Revised for its current L.A. premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, this utterly disarming teenage gay love story effectively evokes an earlier era, while imparting timelessly resonant themes about adolescent angst alongside the omnipresent challenges of homophobic pressure.
Director Les Walters, actors Roger Bach and Kurt Hansen, and a smashing four-piece female band (Julie Wolf, Vivi Rama, Janet Robin and Jyn Yates) keep the joint jumping in this smoothly entertaining and uplifting production.
Taking place during a summer of awakening for two graduating 1993 high-school seniors in small-town Nebraska, the stage adaptation by librettist Todd Almond is built around the music and lyrics of Sweet. During the post-senior year summer, gay Will (Bach), who had been bullied and taunted at school, is uncertain about his next steps in life, though feeling freer in the absence of the homophobic juvenile cruelty.
Meanwhile the ostensibly more centered Mike (Hanson), the handsome and popular baseball jock, prepares to go to college as a pre-med student, though his passion is in music. He's not the paragon of full-blown maturity that his father drives him toward, and expects him to be, and he is harboring a suppressed attraction for men, while dating girls.
The awkward first steps toward romantic attraction between the young men come in the form of regular excursions to the local drive-in movie, where they view the same cheesy flick over and over. It's quickly obvious the two of them share a strong fondness, while both keep retreating into homophobic fears.
The story is simple, but the delightful blend of Sweet's superb music and entertaining lyrics and the heartwarming revelations of this couple's pent-up and ultimately consummated passions make for a highly engaging evening in this nifty summer-of-discovery tale.
These two actors master the comedic and poignant qualities of their characters. As an awkward but likable nerd, Bach is consistently credible and engaging, always conveying the young man's disarming way of laughing at his own insecurities. As the hot jock who boys and girls alike always wanted to get closer to, Hansen aces the guy's mix of cockiness, feigned self-assuredness, and vulnerability. The two performers also serve the hard-rocking score superbly.
Simple but effective scenic and costume designs by David Zinn, highlighted by Ben Stanton's evocative lighting and Jake Rodriguez' superb sound design, help keep the captivating show firmly on course. Wolf's music direction allows for a rousing good time, as does Joe Goode's fine choreography.
A large weeknight audience encompassing diverse age groups responded with obvious glee.
"Girlfriend" continues through July 26 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 W Washington Blvd. in Culver City. For tickets and information, call 213-628-2772 or visit www.centertheatregroup.org.