‘One Hit Wonder’ brought its breathtaking charm to Ann Arbor

Monday, October 23, 2017 - 12:29pm

The minute I sat down in my seat I was captivated. I didn’t know what I expected: a production that described itself as a “pop / rock jukebox-musical about music, love and second chances” was bound to be full of energy, nostalgic hits and blinding color. But the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s “One Hit Wonder” was so much more.

“One Hit Wonder” is a story of high-school sweethearts Rick (played by Senior Musical Theatre major Noah Kieserman) and Ashley (played by Junior Musical Theatre major Leanne Antonio) who had a fleeting taste of fame in their teen years after winning Battle of the Bands at their high school. The song they composed, “One Hit Wonder,” is predictably at the heart of the entire musical plot. Their song is just that: the night after performing, Rick and Ashley break up and the band fizzles out. After leading separate lives for almost two decades, a video of Rick and Ashley singing their hit song goes viral, and both decide to take advantage of the second chance. Thus begins the whirlwind story of pride, heartbreak and rekindled love.

The musical is one of the newest creations of Jeremy Desmon, an award-winning musical theatre bookwriter whose previous works include “Good News” and “Pump Up The Volume,” both of which received rave reviews from the New York Times. “One Hit Wonder” was produced in collaboration with The Arca Group, an esteemed Broadway production company, and was directed by Hunter Foster, a graduate of the University’s SMTD and a Tony award-nominated Broadway actor.

“One Hit Wonder” adds a cutesy twist to its plot –– each song performed was once a real one-hit wonder.

The opening act thrust its energy onto the stage so suddenly that the audience gasped. Rick, wearing the iconic Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon shirt, black jeans and an unbuttoned plaid shirt ran onto the stage, followed by his fans from the dive bar where he plays every night. His fans circled around the bottom of the stage while Rick, sweat already dripping down his face, belted out a high tempo rendition of “Closing Time,” originally performed by the American-rock band Semisonic in the late ’90s. Strobe lights flashed around the theatre, and Rick’s bassist Gunner (played by Musical Theatre major Elliott Styles) jammed with all the charisma of a rock star. By the time the number ended, I had been transported from the Lydia Mendelssohn theatre to a rock concert. It was hard to tell who was cheering more –– the actors playing Rick’s fans or the audience. And this level of passion and exuberance never died down.

The performance continued with a beautiful rendition of the famous “Walking on Sunshine,” originally performed by Katrina & The Waves, in which Ashley celebrated her new position as a partner of the Dunham, Parker & Lutz accounting firm. Her powerful voice stunned the audience; whoops and hollers sounded from the balcony above me. Ashley responded, dazzling the audience with her liveliness. Right before the intermission, a slowed down and somber rendition of “Rescue Me,” originally performed by Fontella Bass, provided a perfect break from the exhilarating first half.

The real genius of “One Hit Wonder” lies in the humor. Actors performed the classic “What is Love?” by Haddaway after the intermission with a clever spin. Stewart, Ashley’s ex-boyfriend (played by Musical Theatre major Simon Longnight) lamented the loss of his girlfriend. Ashley, dressed in sweats and clasping a beer bottle, fumed about Rick’s hook-up with pop singer Mercy Faith, played by Musical Theatre major Grace Bydalek. Rick, shirtless and handcuffed to a bed frame by Mercy, belted out in a panic, “Baby don’t hurt me / Don’t hurt me / No more.” The interplay of these three scenarios, all occuring at the same time but meaning very different things, had the audience roaring with laughter.

It’s rare to find a musical that excels like “One Hit Wonder.” From start to finish, the cast presented a stunning story of the power of love and the whimsy of second chances.