THE WANDERER Finally Opens at Paper Mill Playhouse
Last night I attended the Opening Night and world premiere of the new musical The Wanderer, based on the life of singer Dion DiMucci, who is known for such hits as "Roundaround Sue," "The Wanderer," and many other hits. Like many shows, this highly anticipated musical was supposed to open in 2020 before the pandemic reared its ugly head, but finally, you have the chance to see this!
The Wanderer stars some of the best in the biz, including Broadway's Mike Wartella (last seen in Chasing Rainbows at Paper Mill) as Dion DiMucci, Christy Altomare as Sue Butterfield (Yes, this is who 'RoundAround Sue' is based on), and New Kids On The Block Joey McIntyre as Johnny, a role created just for this show. With talent like these, you know that the show will shine!
I must admit that aside from "Roundaround Sue" (which I LOVE!!!) I didn't know much about Dion, so I came into this show with no preconceived notions or expectations, which only helped considering it is a jukebox musical! It was a fascinating story, including learning about how the decision over the cost of a private plane ticket is what miraculously spared Dion from tragedy in 1959.
For those who don't know, on February 3, 1959, while on tour, Dion was supposed to be on the private charter plane with Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, and Richie Valens that tragically crashed and killed all three singers. This tragedy was known as "the day the music died." Due to a last-minute decision not to pay $36 for the plane ticket and take a bus instead, Dion was not on the plane. You can only imagine what a tragedy like this does to a person's mind, especially when it involves close friends.
The show explores Dion's start growing up in the Bronx, where he learns music and creates his group "Dion and the Belmonts," the rift between him and his parents, including a father who never got his chance to be a singer and holds resentment towards him; the music decisions he made that shaped his career and the aftermath of the plane crash of Buddy Holly; and including his struggle with addiction and recovery.
I offer a unique perspective when I see these shows as I see them through the lens of a producer instead of solidly a critic, most of who have little to no experience or knowledge of how a show is produced and comes about. I know what it takes to make a show happen, both from the begging stages through getting it to the stage, we are humans, and no one is perfect. But there are always lessons we can learn and trends that I see that tend to make shows a hit.
Jukebox musicals are tricky to pull off and often fall flat on their face (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is the only one that has gotten it right so far, in my opinion). I will say this show has the potential to land on Broadway and reach many people, especially those who love the music of Dion and the "doo-wop" sound. The music is super catchy and memorable (a MUST for any show). The set is terrific (designed by the visionary extraordinaire Beowulf Boritt) with many moving parts, turns, and different areas where people climb up and out. And it is also a love story of Dion and Sue and the struggle of trying to find yourself when you're lost and "wandering." There is also A LOT of laughs and humor, a must!
I'd like to offer some thoughts for the show moving forward, which could further help the story. There are always kinks, but there is always room to improve, like all shows. The first act was terrific but seemed to drag on a little too long to get to the main focus of Dion's love for Sue and then the tour with Buddy Holiday. There also seemed to be unanswered questions--Dion forms Dion and the Belmonts and then runs off to join Buddy Holly and the band on the Winter Dance Party Tour...but what happens with the Belmonts? Did they break up? Did they dissolve? That could be explained better in further iterations.
Act 2, as it seems with most jukebox shows, was super fast and flew by. During the second act, we see Dion's struggle with drug addiction, struggle to write music and think clearly, dealing with his inner demons from that tragic crash and how it could have been him, and how coming back to the church saved his life. This all happens very fast. I'd love to see them explore the latter of finding his faith more. This is all, of course, stuff that is typical with these jukebox musicals, and if it's fine-tuned, right can be hit right on the mark. Perhaps having the 18+ months to work on it during covid helped shape it into what it is now!
As I said, I've seen my fair share of jukebox musicals, and many of them I wouldn't recommend to others and wouldn't go back and see a second or third time. This is not the case with The Wanderer, I would not only recommend this show to everyone, but I would go back a 2nd or third time to see it again. Everyone was happy to be there, and from what I heard from the audience as they were leaving, people not only wanted to see it on Broadway (oh bless the hearts of the "over the bridgers" who want to see EVERYTHING on Broadway!) but they wanted to come back.
And for once, this opening night felt somewhat "back to the norm" it was nice to see everyone mingling outside before the show, and I only hope that for the next show (SISTER ACT), they bring the cast party afterward--you can easily do it outside as it will be June! We have to get back to life and living; the only way is forward, not back. It was nice to see this last night.
I am hearing that there are not many tickets left for the run, which is only here until April 24, so get your tickets now! Oh, I forgot to mention, there were some heavy hitters in the audience last night, including Steve Van Zandt (from The Sopranos and the E Street band with Bruce Springsteen) and Vincent Pastore (Big P*ssy on The Sopranos), and Anthony Scaramucci.
Head over to my Instagram to see more coverage from the show, including some exciting photos, videos, and behind the scenes!
Thanks to Paper Mill Playhouse and The Press Room for having me! Get your tickets for The Wanderer by clicking here.