33 to Nothing may do its bastard subgenre-—the rock-and-roll-rehearsal play—as well as it can be done. If so, the painful limitations of this boy-loses-lead-guitarist saga teach that not everything is worth doing. The fundamental problem lies with the music. No one expects rock brilliance from a theater world in which Spring Awakening represents the cutting edge. But Varjas and company have assembled a decent band, playing competent pop songs and garnering comparisons to Coldplay, Bowie, and Lou Reed. To my ear, though, their blandly moody midtempo numbers sound nearer to a keyboard-driven Nickelback or Daughtry, while the lyrical generalities delivered in Grant Varjas’s stirring baritone conjure the still-warm ghost of Jon Bon Jovi. Simply put, the band is good enough to make you wish they were a lot better—but it’s hard to be a great rock band, especially as a sideline. Of course, there’s a story that goes along with the songs: The band’s breaking up, and the singer has a drinking problem. Playwright Varjas plays the egomaniacal singer Gray almost sympathetically, while singer-songwriter Preston Clarke, as lead guitarist Bri, has a stoic decency reminiscent of Bob Mould. But without the songs, the story’s nothing special, and, unfortunately, vice versa.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 24, 2007