By Catherine Rampell
This slightly more admirable variant of the girl-team musical features a lot of fun, and often funny, female roles whose comedy doesn’t lean on sex and sex appeal. (Considering the theatrical track record, that feat is more impressive than it sounds.)
Most of those characters are players on the woefully underperforming St. Agnes high school volleyball team: the inexplicably angry girl (Juliane Godfrey); the fiery Latina (Gerianne Pérez); the cowardly beanpole (Julia Knitel, a comic standout); the team captain who is repeatedly described as being under too much pressure to be perfect, although it’s not clear exactly how, or in what way (Allison Strong).
Coaching the team is Kim Brindell (a brusque and unsentimental Susan Blackwell). Ms. Brindell has a dark, YouTube-worthy secret: She once competed at the Olympics and choked so epically that even McKayla Maroney would be impressed.
Unsurprisingly Coach Brindell’s redemption lies in leading her ragtag team to victory. She must recoup the intimidating confidence she wielded in her pre-Olympic days, and convince the girls to likewise unleash their inner “jabalí” (the Spanish word for a wild boar, helpfully suggested by that fiery Latina).
Not much happens over the show’s two hours, and Rob Ackerman’s book struggles to make sense of some of its more contrived conflicts. But the score, with music by Eli Bolin and lyrics by Sam Forman, includes a couple of lively crowd-pleasers. In addition to a “Jabalí” song (and its abundant reprises), there’s also a masterfully directed comic ode to the beautiful team captain, sung by PJ Adzima as a jittery admirer from St. Agnes’s brother school.
And whatever its shortcomings, the musical, directed by Neil Patrick Stewart, largely redeems itself in the last 20 minutes, helped along by Ryan Kasprzak’s energetic, stylized choreography of a volleyball game (with attendant silly victory dances) and a touching Oh-Captain-My-Captain-type tribute to the beleaguered coach. The closing sequence gets about a close to a winning spike as this cheeseball volleyball show could hope for.
“Volleygirls” continues through July 27 at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St.; (212) 352-3101, nymf.org.