I had never heard of Matthew Sweet before, but when I found out the Kitchen Theatre was going to be doing a musical when I got back to Cornell this fall, I was intrigued. Girlfriend is a new musical featuring the songs from Matthew Sweet’s 1991 indie pop album called Girlfriend. The musical, with book by Todd Almond, tells the story of two boys in Nebraska in 1993. Mike (Woody White) and Will (Jonathan Melo) just graduated high school and get to know each other over the summer before Mike has to leave for college.
Girlfriend was at a theater in DC this summer, but I couldn’t get tickets because they were so expensive. However, student tickets at the Kitchen Theatre are only $20, so despite not knowing much about the musical, I bought my tickets as soon as I got back to school. The Kitchen Theatre only seats 99 people, so it provides an intimate experience for audiences. I sat in the back row, but I could see everything on the stage very clearly, since there were only four rows.
The set design was pretty basic, but I think it worked perfectly for the show. Girlfriend only has two characters: Will and Mike. The set had areas set up for both their rooms, lights strung across the ceiling, and a wooden bench in the back. There was a live band in the right corner. When Mike and Will were driving in Mike’s car, crates were used as the seats. Sounds were used heavily to help convey what was going on around Will and Mike. At the drive-in, you could hear the sounds of the movie they were watching. When they’re driving, you could hear the sounds of the car. The lights were used to show the time of day – I especially loved the orange tinted lights during a scene at sunset. I was really impressed by how such a limited set and the creative use of sounds really made me feel like I was there with Will and Mike.
The musical tells a beautiful story of first love. I felt like the songs perfectly fit into the story and the way the characters were feeling. One of my favorite songs was “I’ve Been Waiting,” which is the first song in the musical. I wasn’t sure if I would like Matthew Sweet’s music, but after hearing this opening song, I was hooked. Another great song was “Looking at the Sun,” which contained some great comedic moments. I was really surprised by how funny the show was. I was expecting it to be heartwarming, but I wasn’t expecting to be cracking up at the antics of the characters.
Jonathan Melo and Woody White were both exceptional, as was the live band. It felt like I was peeking into someone’s real life instead of watching a show. I enjoyed the whole ambience of the musical, and when it ended, I felt as though I was walking out of some sort of dream – it was unreal!
Girlfriend was too good to only see once, so I went back for a second time, and this time, I sat in the front row, which made me feel even more like I was a part of the show. This upcoming Saturday, I plan on seeing the show for my third and final time. I can’t wait.
Girlfriend runs through September 30 and is only the first show of the season at Kitchen Theatre. They’re presenting six more plays this season, and tickets for students are significantly discounted, so check it out. If you want an intimate theater experience, Kitchen Theatre can’t be beat.