Bright Lights, Big City
By Sam Whitehead
"Good evening," offers the mangy, guitar-strumming man behind the most misguided tuner to come along in years. "Welcome", he continues, in his heavy Scottish burr. "I'm Paul Scott Goodman. I'm the writer of this musical version of Bright Lights, Big City. I first read this novel a couple of years ago, and it instantly appealed to me; the more it was revealed to me, it reminded me of me you see." So begins the stage adaptation of Jay McIrney's notorious personal paean to the vapid decadence of the 80s. Thank God that every yahoo who feels a connection to other people's words doesn't also feel the need to parlay the bond into a show.
If Goodman has one thing going for him throughout his theatrical debacle, it's that he definitaly looks as if he's done all the boozing and blow necessary to somehow figure as a hard-living player in the decade of excess that Bright Lights came to symbolize. With a craggy, washed-up smile, he akwardly strolls the stage acting like a detatched emcee and guiding the audience through the infamous week of drug-fueled despair that brought McIrney’s autobiographical hero Jamie(symphathetically played by newcomer Patrick Wilson) to his knees. And given eye-rolling lyrics that rely on strained, sophmoric rhyme schemes ("Waitress, I’m in trouble here/ Let me have a double here/ I need the clinkety-clink of a drinkety-drink"), it’s not long before you too are brought to your knees. If only it were in an intoxicated haze. Since Bright Lights is directed by Michael Grief, with sets by Paul S. Clay, costumes by Angela Wendt and lighting by Blake Burba - the same team responsible for Rent - the similarities between the two rock musicals are not surprising. They’re just distressing. Déja vu sets in fast, as both shows look almost identical and are full of young people loaded with energy, bounding about and warbling into those damn mini-headset microphones. But while Rent is at least concerned with life and hope, Bright Lights is invested in cocaine and the Odeon. Even Goodman seems to sense the vacuity of it all when, at the show’s end, he pipes in for the last time, offering what could be a desperate apology in the guise of a gracious farewell: "Thank you for coming. Good night." And good riddance.