REVIEW: Bubble Boy - Studio Cast

Recording CoverMost albums that we get to review here at are preservations of major Broadway productions, shows that many of us have gotten to see. It's a nice treat then to be given the recording of Bubble Boy -- a little known musical with a loopy premise -- without any sense of how it plays on stage, for a listen. Based on the 2001 film starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, the show tells the improbable story of Jimmy Livingston, an autoimmune-deficient young man who has been forced to live his life in a plastic bubble. In more serious hands, this would be the stuff of Dear Evan Hansen teen-angst, but this wacky musical, fashioned by original screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, is a laugh-out-loud romp. The story, which isn't too hard to follow from the songs (and there are a whopping 23 numbers on the album including reprises), follows a fairly well-worn formula: Boy (in a bubble) meets Girl (not in a bubble), Boy (in a bubble) and Girl fall in love. Girl falls for another Boy (not in a bubble). Boy (in a bubble) goes on a journey to stop Girl from marrying Boy #2. Suffice it to say a tidy ending wraps everything up.

I must admit, I've never seen the movie Bubble Boy -- it always looked too silly for my tastes -- but the stage show, at least on CD, is filled with all the wit and tunefulness of a top-notch musical. (The show had its beginnings with an ASCAP Musical Theater workshop in 2008, and Stephen Schwartz, who served on that year's workshop panel, provides some opening liner notes.) Cinco Paul, one of the film's original writers, has a real ear for melody and droll rhyming wordplay. Take the song, "Stay Clean" by Jimmy's uptight mother (wonderfully performed by Alice Ripley) as she importunes her son to avoid filth in life: "This world is a cesspool, unwashed and obscene/There's some filth you can't fight with Lysol and Bactine/Stay Clean." Or take "Please Stay," in which Jimmy tries to get Chloe, his love interest, to not leave but can't seem to say what he means: "I hate that Mark . . . /I hate that Mark . . . /I hate that Mark. . .'s not here so I can congratulate that Mark." It might not be Sondheim, but the breeziness of the score more than readily fits the subject matter, producing songs that are both full of heart and humor.

While the show has a small ensemble, vocally it's the three main characters who shine and do all the heavy lifting. A.J. Holmes is delightful as the title character and has an easy voice that really soars. Caroline Bowman is both funny and touching as his love interest Chloe, and Alice Ripley steals song after song, especially "Bring Back My Boy" as his overprotective, racist, anti-Semitic mother. Justin Golden and Brent Crayon have crafted tight orchestrations that never overpower the cast, while Cinco Paul and Michael Holland devised the sharp vocal arrangements.

I have no idea how this show plays on stage, but given the delightful recording, hopefully there will be more productions in this show's future.


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