Kid Victory – Cast Album Review
As I sit here listening to the recently produced cast recording of the John Kander and Greg Pierce musical Kid Victory, I am of two minds about how to approach this review. Do I simply look at the technicalities of this album and report back that Broadway Records has dutifully captured this hard-to-digest little musical for posterity with their usual high standards and aplomb for preserving musical theatre with verve and precision? Or do I dig a little deeper and share my reactions to a musical that is both compelling and unsettling, a challenging piece of theatre that ultimately leaves me unsatisfied, if intrigued by the choice to tell this story to begin with?
Kid Victory tells the story of a teenage boy named Luke who has been kidnapped by a man, taken for reasons of a sexual nature, exploring the experience by moving back-and-forth between his captivity and its painful aftermath. Interestingly (and perhaps the foundation for my lack of connection to the material) Luke is not given a single note to sing. Considering what he goes through, what he must process, and how he must try to heal, it seems like this would be his story to tell. Instead, the people in his life: parents, friends, dates, his employer, but Luke is kept in musical silence. It’s a bold choice, metaphorically penetrating, but, in the end, it renders the cast recording a detached, emotionally distancing listen. Perhaps this is part of the uncomfortable nature of the show, to starkly draw attention to the boy’s inability to process and reconcile his experience?
John Kander (particularly in his long career with Fred Ebb) never shied away from the dark side of humanity. Cabaret, Zorba, Chicago, The Visit, and most particularly Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Scottsboro Boys deal with a side of our world that is neither neat nor is it pretty. We shouldn’t be surprised that Kid Victory takes us into shadowy places. The luring, the abduction, the drugging, and the sexual molestation of a teenage boy by an adult gay man may very well be one the most unpalatable subjects for musical comedy, one that perpetuates an already misleading stereotype while also taking the audience on a journey that is uncomfortable. Listening to the cast album, you cannot really set that aside and enjoy Kid Victory as a John Kander musical cast album. It’s more penetrating than that. It demands you go along for Luke’s experience, put yourself in his place. Perhaps, in the end, it is what we bring to the table that is the stand-in for Luke’s songless voice?
That aside, the album is worthy of several listens providing you can get past its premise. Challenging, worthwhile theatre requires more from us than just listening for pep and pizazz. Sometimes theatre is down and dirty and asks questions that are hard to answer. For example, Luke is from a devout Christian family, members of a stalwart sect in their small Kansas community. The musical ironically opens with “Lord Carry Me Home” a prayer circle praying for the boy, a startling example of how religion and faith have already failed the boy. The juxtaposition of their hopes and prayers against the unfathomable situation alerts us that we are already on a path toward answers we aren’t going to like.
None of the songs particularly stand out on the album or lift out of their context easily. That is okay. These are the effects of a narrative and character development that do not want us to feel at ease, differentiating the piece from our typical musical theatre experience (whatever that is). Kid Victory is a bit experimental, certainly ambitious, bold beyond what we are bound to be comfortable with, and a fascinating listen that, for me, engaged me enough to invest, but never left me feeling as though I had experienced a complete story. That lack of closure seems to be what the authors are trying to leave us with and, depending on how you accept the subject matter and the emotional roller coaster it might incite in you, that feeling of no concrete ending might be exactly how this story speaks to you. Have a listen and see what it does to you. However you synthesize Kid Victory, you are still getting the experience of a John Kander score and that in and of itself makes this cast album a necessary purchase.