For a self-described rock comedy that’s f#%king everything up, David Eric Davis and Sam Forman’s explosive hipster musical at the Elektra Theatre is doing something right.
Featuring an award-winning songbook by writers and lyricists David Eric Davis and Sam Forman, F#%king Up Everything is 100 minutes of puppeteering, weed-smoking, and homoerotic fun centered on a lovable nerdy character and his ukulele-playing love interest.
Don’t let the curse words and grungy-looking scenery trick you into thinking that you’ll be watching some updated, Williamsburg version of Rock of Ages. F#%king Up Everything calls itself a rock comedy, but is so much more than that—rock is only one aspect of the style, music, and mortar of this play. If anything, F#%king Up Everything uses rock as a metaphor for its much gushier storyline and message. The characters learn that being cool and “rock and roll” is not as important as being yourself when it comes to finding love and happiness. Yes, it’s corny but oh so good!
Lead by the inexorable Max Crumm from the latest revival of Broadway’s Grease (winner of TV’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want!), the cast is a band of hilarious characters, caricatures of young twenty-somethings you might find in a dive bar in the East Village, Williamsburg, or Bushwick (a.k.a. “where boys become men”). Crumm plays Christian Muhammad Schwawrtzelberg, a young Jewish (as opposed to his multiple namesakes) puppeteer and NPR tote bag-wearer, who falls in love with the only straight girl to major in Queer Theory at Sarah Lawrence, Juliana (Katherine Cozumel).
What ensues is a musically exquisite tale told through a series of songs that vary from rock ballads to reggae. Davis and Forman’s lyrics are smart and witty and the tunes are catchy—“Arielle’s,” a song about Arielle’s (Lisa Birnbaum) areola, is particularly unforgettable.
The show begins with a rendition of “F#%king Up Everything,” sung by heartthrob, and Adam Lambert look-alike, Jake (Jason Gotay) and his band Ironic Maiden. Jake and Christian are best friends (or bros, later emphasized by the hilarious duet “Be My Bro”) but there’s one problem: Jake always wins against Christian in the dating game. This complicated friendship is heightened when Juliana comes to a gig.
When the going gets tough for Christian, he turns to his puppets for advice; after all, “talking to puppets is cheaper than therapy.” These puppets aren’t the green frogs and flamboyant pigs people are used to seeing (though puppet designer David Valentine can make those, too). At one point, Christian seeks advice from a Noam Chomsky puppet and later Iggy Pop gets into a fistfight with Robert Smith, a hilarious take on the angelic and demonic tutelary spirits that usually inhabit one’s shoulder during times of inner turmoil. Somewhat expectedly, puppet tutelage fails and Christian f#%s up everything with Juliana.
In the midst of a strong cast who can belt songs like the best of them, Lisa Birnhaum stands out with her superb performance as Arielle, the sex-crazed band-booker for the Brooklyn Bowl with a “Fuck-It List” and a soft-spot for love sick nerds.
Although F#%king Up Everything may seem like a traditional love story, gay romance is introduced between two members of Ironic Maiden, which further complicates the plot and disrupts the notion of heteronormative (to bring in Queer theory) love.
Davis and Forman’s portrayal of young love, angst, friendship and the quest for fame and intellectual wealth is campy and over-the-top but heartfelt and strangely genuine, for all its tight jeans, printed shirts and spank paddles. It paints a portrait of hipsters that care, which may mean they’re not hipsters at all, in a fame-obsessed world where looks can say more than words.