​A ‘Sweet’ Story of Young Love in ‘Girlfriend’

Ryder Bach and Curt Hansen star in “Girlfriend,” a musical inspired by Matthew Sweet's 1991 album. 

Ryder Bach and Curt Hansen in “Girlfriend”. Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy of Center Theatre Group

by Laura Hertzfeld 

It seems everyone is hungry for 1990s nostalgia these days – the success of the revamp of Boy Meets World and Seinfeld’s resurgence on Hulu and the return of the '90s favorite revival musical Cabaret on Broadway are just a few examples. And fans of indie rocker Matthew Sweet (a “pre-Jordan Catalano dreamboat”) will certainly have a soft spot for his 1991 album—turned-musical -- Girlfriend, which opened Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, Calif. And it wasn’t just the music that showed up from the 90s – Hole singer Courtney Love was at the opening to support the show.

Girlfriend is a touching tribute to coming of age and young love that is understated and poignant.In 2011 Matthew Sweet talked with Spinabout the album’s resonance 20 years on, saying “People really relate to it emotionally, and kind of see themselves in it. There are people who got together to that record, and people that broke up to the record.”

The album inspired the musical and Todd Almond’s book, which follows Will (Ryder Bach) and Mike (Curt Hansen) during the summer after their senior year in high school in a small town in Nebraska (not coincidentally, Sweet’s a Nebraska native). Over the course of the 90-minute show, the two fall in love and go through high school trials like leaving for college, confronting bullies, and dealing with parents. That the two characters happen to be gay is almost irrelevant – the awkwardness of early dates, the fear of being seen with some one new, the uncertainty about the future resonate with everyone. Directed by Les Waters who also oversaw the first production of ‘Girlfriend’ at the Berkeley Reperatory Theater in the Bay Area in 2010, the show moves smoothly through the story of awkward, nerdy Will and confident, jocky Mike’s summer together.

The songs are familiar in that back-of-the-shelf way and the show may encourage you to pull out your old records. Tunes like ‘Evangeline,’ which in the show becomes an homage to a superhero nun-slash-alien and the title track perfectly align with the musical’s earnest sentiment. The two actors are backed by a hard jamming all-female garage band on stage, led by Julie Wolf.

Perhaps it’s time for a new generation to meet Matthew Sweet. Make a date with ‘Girlfriend’ in L.A. through August 9.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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