Dave, a wide-eyed New York transplant from the Midwest, receives a driver’s license in the mail that says he was born in Krakow in 1921. To correct this, he heads to the Ministry of Progress, an Orwellian DMV run by people who hate their jobs. As Dave begins wading through the red tape, he slowly realizes there is no way out; he is doomed to stay there forever unless he can find his real identity, which means reconnecting with the dreams of his inner child. On his journey to self-discovery, Dave learns he must rebel against the perverse bureaucracy and, in doing so, set himself and the Ministry’s workers free.
The anti-establishment message is clear, but Obie-winning director Kim Hughes’s hyperactive rock-musical adaptation of Charles Morrow’s radio play jumbles the story. As Dave meets new characters, video images overhead are meant to reveal the identity crisis each character faces. But the images are too vague to tell us much—except for the hard-bodied construction workers that flash on-screen when the closeted doctor does his Village People number.
Which brings us to Hughes’s second problem: The songs are terrible. As the cast climb the set’s scaffolding, they sing clichés about love, destiny, and the sanctity of 401(k)’s. Possibly suffering from too many composers (11!), the score is lyrically empty: “In every kiss, in every touch/Paradise lives in us,” coos “Come on Angel.” The sole memorable song, “Still Here,” is the only one co-written by an actual rock producer, Tony Visconti; the rest are musical dabblers and Taylor Dayne affiliates.
Meanwhile, the audience could care less about Dave. There are too many distractions from his saga (for example, the mysterious guitarist who keeps popping out for no other reason but to do a solo). Near the end, a romance transpires, but it feels more like a vehicle for a couple of love songs than a meaningful plot twist.