You haven't seen Son of a Gun? Then you're so vain.
When you think “son of a gun,” I’ll bet you think of Carly Simon. If not, then surely How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days comes to your mind. …Wait, you’re not a teenage girl? Are you sure you clicked on the right article? You want to read a review of the new musical produced by Firebone Theater called, Son of a Gun, by TKC's very own Chris Cragin Day, correct?
Recall her album, Clouds in my Coffee, and the famous song “You’re So Vain.” At the top of the track, there’s a faint drumming noise, and then Simon breathes “son of a gun” to facetiously empathize with the poor bum (ex-beau) who is soon to be sorry he ever messed with her. While Carly Simon gained great popularity from this song, it serves as a prophecy of her success. Even in the recording studio, she could almost taste it. A youth muttered “son of a gun” in a recording studio, and the anthem of her saga echoed, long before it was even sang.
Even if you didn’t follow that at all, you’ve got to remember how Kate Hudson drunkenly screamed those lyrics at Matthew McConaughey in that yellow dress in that movie. Ready to explode out of a man’s universe, she was a woman making an exit as famous as Neil Armstrong on the moon.
In any event, the phrase, “son of a gun” hearkens to a spirit breaking free, which is just what Cragin Day's and Don Chaffer’s new musical is about: a youth breaking the bonds of a family band to write his own ballad.
For Danderhauler Agamemnon Khrusty, life is a concert with one headliner: “Winston Khrusty and the Appalachian Mourners.” Just as Danderhauler finally gains the courage to throw in his guitar pick, his father, Winston Khrusty, learns he has tongue cancer. Overnight, Danderhauler must go from family-band-quitter to family-band-leader. Whistling to this different tune is all well and good, and the three Khrusty brothers set off on the open road to finish the tour without their parents. Danderhauler falls in love with Lucy Sunshine and it seems as though the grass really is greener. His father’s worsening condition strikes a chord in Danderhauler, and he must pound out all the minor notes before any keys can change.
The play is loosely autobiographical, as Don Chaffer’s father was a victim of oral cancer, and Chaffer published an album after his father’s passing, which inspired the musical. In his author’s note in the playbill, Chaffer described that album as “humid with emotions rising like steam from both his [father’s] life and his death.” In a way, this musical is the anthem of Chaffer’s youthful angsty saga, first heard in his dark diary about his father.
Cragin Day’s book provides a great aesthetic experience as it has a great overarching metaphor, it has a humorous, whimsical tone, and it still preserves and sifts through the gritty feelings of a rebellious son. "Cowboy Jesus" tells the audience up front that they will see a duel between father and son. With satisfying effect, the plot comes full circle as it accomplishes the duel and follows the characters beyond that. Names like "Lucy Sunshine" imply that the character’s journeys are caricatured, but it is all in the service of humor. A Volkswagen traveling family who frequents seedy bars could easily be suited as uninteresting white trash in an RV park, but to great surprise, Cragin Day dresses them in pretty leisure suits and paints them in a glory like Graceland. Still, amidst all the humor, she never loses that sense of "steam," the pain of a rebellious son brewing till it boils over.
Van Hughes, best known for his lead role in the US tour of "Green Day’s American Idiot" is the perfect rocker to play Danderhauler. He holds his guitar like his oxygen tank as he drowns in the rhythm. Lori Fischer shines as Elmadora, the mother with the revolver in the basement. A newcomer to New York theatre, Alex Branton gave a standout performance as Khorky a strong engagement in each scene.
The cast deserves a pat on the back, as they all play their own instruments onstage. The music in the show hums like Mumford and Sons and rocks like the end of every great 80’s movie. Whatever the volume of the heartbeats of every young person onstage sound, they come through loud and clear in these songs.
So if you are a teenage girl, you like Carly Simon, or if you like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, you need to go see Son of a Gun because you need to engage in some modern culture and a fresh, folky-rock soundtrack. And if you are not a teenage girl, you should go see Son of a Gun to blow off steam, or whatever it is you kids do these days.
Son of a Gun plays at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row on 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue until November 18th. Click here for tickets and more information.