Long before “Helldrivers Of Daytona” officially opened at the beautiful Royal George Theatre on Monday night, the pre-Broadway world premiere appeared to possess plenty of potential. For starters, there’s the all-star creative team featuring music by Berton Averre (The Knack/“My Sharona”), lyrics by Rob Meurer (a frequent Christopher Cross collaborator) and a book by seven-time Emmy Award winner Mark Saltzman (“Sesame Street,” “The Adventures Of Milo And Otis,” “Mrs. Santa Claus”).
Hopefully the next round of tweaks will start with dialing down the dirtiness and adding some more universally appealing comedy because there are enough nuts and bolts on the bench to someday make this race actually worth the ride to attend.
Then there was the promise for an edgy spin on ‘60s that puts it tongue in the cheek of an Elvis Presley-styled flick filled with rock n’ roll, surfboards, sun, sex and hotrods. And while all the elements certainly did exist surrounding the tensions of racers and lovers revving up for the 1965 Daytona Speedway Jackpot 500, the end result of what could’ve easily been spectacular given everyone’s already proven talents and the concept in general was limited on laughs and ruined by raunch.
No doubt the entire cast tried gallantly to turn a dud into a diamond, especially broke, underdog driver Lucky Stubbs (James Nedrud), his affluent rival Count Porcini Portobello (David Sajewich) and their shared love interest in small town gal Pepper Johnson (Samantha Pauly), but those lead characters, the speedway groupies and the motorhead men are more memorable for their freakish fetishes than the actual plot. Though the “Helldrivers Of Daytona” advertisement clearly mentions the vulgarity in the show, there’s a huge difference between being artfully progressive and purely tasteless.
Unfortunately, this musical favors the latter on many occasions with its barrage of references to daughter/father attraction, pedophile priests, a split-personality pervert and many more oddities in too poor of taste to be printed. Zero judgment for those with an alternative sex life or disregard for religion, but envelope pushing hits such as the “Sesame Street” antithesis “Avenue Q” and “The Book Of Mormon” have made much better use of double entendres and lampooning faith leaders that were genuinely a riot.
Sure, the opening night reaction garnered a giggle every now and then, obvious respect for everyone’s vocal and acting abilities, plus particularly enthusiastic relatives during curtain call, but many in the room appeared to be scratching their heads in disgust or indifference. Hopefully the next round of tweaks will start with dialing down the dirtiness and adding some more universally appealing comedy because there are enough nuts and bolts on the bench to someday make this race actually worth the ride to attend.