In the Moment: ‘Girlfriend’ at Signature Theatre

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Girlfriend is a sensitively constructed and gracefully performed coming of age musical about two late teen boys having an unexpected first crush that turns into love between them. Girlfriend’s arc is the journey of the two young men; from a cautious summertime platonic friendship, to explorations of tentative feelings and finally to love; one for the other.

Signature Theatre’s production of Girlfriend is truly a tale of personal discovery and bravery. My DCMTA collogue John Stoltenberg’s spot-on review of Girlfriend is here.

Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike, standing) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.
Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike, standing) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Let me add my own reactions. Under the refined, empathetic direction of Signature Theatre’s Matthew Gardiner, Signature newcomers Jimmy Mavrikes and Lukas James Miller are staggering in the ability to make their characters real; without artifice or artificiality. The two become our sons, our friends, our loved ones. As a parent or friend, we want to see them thrive and protect them from meanness and brutality, as best we can, even as catcalls of “faggots” spit out from a passing car.

Girlfriend employs musical numbers from Matthew Sweet’s 1991 album Girlfriend as its rock-and-roll laded-fuel. The ten musical numbers are warm and attentive in the manner in which they illuminate the blossoming relationship between the two young men.

The ten musical numbers become a secret diary the young men kept between themselves; others do not have the key or the right to unlock. Todd Almond’s book is the sub-structure that holds the production together as musical theater, rather than a jukebox type presentation. Almond’s book is striking for the spoken dialogue that is such a significant part of Girlfriend.

Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.
Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Almond’s book also provides opportunities for Mavrikes and Miller to showcase their acting talents, especially in scenes of pensive stillness or active confusion; or simply in the moving of a hand or the ache someone can feel for another human being.

Girlfriend is fresh and honest in the manner in which songs composed by Sweet are used to illuminate the blossoming relationship between high school jock with a girlfriend Mike (played by Miller) and the shy, unsure Will (portrayed by Mavrikes). “I wanna love somebody. I hear you need somebody to love” is one lyric put to good use.  If the protean Cole Porter was still alive he would applaud how songs are used for enlightened purposes).

Over 90 intermission-free minutes, what began as an unexpected meet-up of teens seeking out a good friend for the summer after high school graduation provides ample opportunities for tenderness and confusions as the two young men piece together what they want while feeling safe in their discoveries and choices. (and in a time when cordless phones and actual conversations were methods of contact).

Now a big shout out to the smoking band composed of Britt Bonney (keyboard and conductor), Beth Cannon (guitar), Nicole Saphos (bass), and splendid drummer Erika Johnson.(Johnson was a marvel as I watched her with her sticks setting the percussive rhythm for the show). Neat touch to have the band visible at times, and invisible at others. They, like we the seated audience, became active on-lookers and supports to Will and Mike.

Girlfriend has a blackout final scene that is like quicksilver with a fine duet of “I’ve Wanted to Tell You” from Mavrikes and Miller. What happens next hangs in the air. Signature Theatre’s production of Girlfriend is an impressive production that deserves, and will hopefully have, the widest possible audience. The show captures love in all its marvelous wonders and bumps because of a cast that understands that relationships start with dreams and reaching out.

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Girlfriend has been extended through June 17, 2018, at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or purchase them online.

Note: Musical Numbers:
“I’ve Been Waiting”
“Reaching Out”
Winona”
Looking at the Sun”
“Girlfriend”
“We’re the Same”
“Evangeline”
“Your Sweet Voice”
“You Don’t Love Me/Sick of Myself”
“I Wanted to Tell You”