Broadway loves nostalgia, and they also love a sure thing. That's why most of the biggest hit musicals on Broadway right now are jukebox musicals that string together narratives out of popular songs. Musicals like Movin' Out, Jersey Boys, and especially Rock of Ages utilize hits from the past few decades to pack audiences into theaters, which is all fine and dandy, but Rocks Off has been wondering: What about the '90s?
The 1990s, particularly the grunge era, are ripe for the picking, as far as nostalgia goes. And while we're at it, you know how Broadway love a musical version of a hit movie? The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde have both had huge success in their Broadway incarnations. Well, why not a Dazed and Confused musical? 70's nostalgia is still pretty big, but the best part is that once the first one completes its run, why not a sequel set in 1993, the year Rick Linklater's film was released?
Boom. Two of Broadway's most successful current formulas, brought together. The only thing is that due to the subject matter of so many 90's songs, it would have to be significantly darker than anything currently on Broadway...
Lee High School, the suburbs of Austin, Tex., 1993
Jimmy "Purple" Hayes, 15-year-old orphan who lives with his aunt, has long been a nobody in his school, keeping mostly to himself and his three best friends, Violet, Jeremy, and Derrick, three fellow loner/lackers who also constitute the rest of his band, Hideous Princess. Their lives are simple, and a bit boring (Blind Melon, "No Rain").
Things begin to change for Jimmy when Hideous Princess performs a song he's written at the school talent show (Smashing Pumpkins, "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"). He begins to become, if not exactly popular, then at least well-liked around school, and one of his new friends encourages him to enter his song into a local radio contest, which he does. When asked why, Jimmy reveals that he is sick of life in the suburbs and longs to see the world and achieve freedom (Soundgarden, "Rusty Cage") despite being only 15.
His music teacher, one Mr. Ron Slater, who served as a roadie for bands like Aerosmith and KISS in the '70s and '80s, warns Jimmy of the dangers of being the "next big thing" in an environment of lies, superficiality, and competition (Sonic Youth, "100%") but Jimmy remains determined to get out of town. Jimmy and the band record the song and send their demo tape to local radio station KNNC, or K-NACK.
Jeremy and Violet, who play lead guitar and bass, respectively, in Hideous Princess, are starting to experience trouble in their relationship; the two have been dating for two years. Jeremy reveals that he has many insecurities regarding their relationship, not the least of which is Violet's growing friendship with Jimmy.
Violet tries to soothe him, but Jeremy reveals himself as a prematurely bitter bundle of frazzled nerves and sexual angst (Afghan Whigs, "Debonair") as a result of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend. Their relationship on precarious terms, the tension is somewhat relieved when Derrick and Jimmy enter with news that their demo won the contest, and the secret grand prize was announced: They get to open for Alice In Chains on six dates.
Excited at the prospect, Jimmy reveals some hesitation about the band's growing success, echoing Slater's advice from earlier. All three band members reassure him that the only way to make something of himself is to get out of the shitkicker suburbs (Meat Puppets, "Backwater") and Jimmy regains his confidence.
Enter Mr. Hardsell, an record executive with Dystopia Records. He arrives with brand-new instruments for the band and a big, fat million-dollar check to sign to his label for their next five albums. The only catch: he wants them to add Dystopia Records' latest prospect to their band. Her name is Cyndi Orion, and she's a lovely, badass, exotic-looking 17-year-old who demonstrates her abilities in front of the band (Juliana Hatfield, "Universal Heartbeat").
Violet and Derrick are fine with her addition; only Jimmy and Jeremy have reservations about adding her. Hardsell tells them "no pressure, but we need a decision by 7 p.m. tomorrow." Jimmy catches Cyndi loading up her gear and engages her in a very frank one-on-one conversation in which he reveals that he noticed she didn't seem all that into the positive lyrics of the song she sang.
Cyndi reveals that he is correct, that's the kind of stuff the label wants her to sing, and she personally would like to sing more honest, downcast tunes (she even hates "Cyndi Orion," her stage name). Jimmy and Cyndi click, and Jimmy changes his mind about her. With Jeremy outnumbered 3 to 1, Cyndi is allowed into the band, and Hideous Princess signs with Dystopia.
A month later, at their first gig opening for Alice In Chains in Dallas, Hideous Princess debuts a new song (Pearl Jam, "Not For You"), an ostensible rebuke to those who would have them dilute their sound. Hardsell, however, loves their attitude and their darker direction because it's what sells these days.
The first gig having gone well, Hardsell throws the band a lavish party. While the other three are fine with their new lifestyle, Jeremy objects to the money, the perks, and being in the spotlight. Jimmy, confused, asks him why he even joined a rock band if he didn't want success. They argue about whether or not they've compromised their integrity; Jimmy feels they have not, but Jeremy disagrees.
When Violet takes Jimmy's side, it's the last straw; Jeremy breaks up with her (Hole, "Violet") and leaves the band. Distraught, Violet flees, sobbing, and Derrick goes after her. Alone with Jimmy, Cyndi reveals that she has developed feelings for him after watching him perform. Jimmy is surprised but pleased, and as Cyndi seduces him, she reveals that she has another habit she loves as much as rock and roll: Heroin. With sex and the promise of stress relief as bait, Cyndi gets Jimmy to shoot up for the first time (Mudhoney, "Touch Me I'm Sick") and promptly takes his virginity.
Hardsell sees what is happening, and approves of the much more pliable junkie Jimmy. When Derrick and Violet show doubt, Hardsell coerces the band into compliance with promises of great things coming, assuring them that they don't know what they're doing because they're so young, and that they must trust him (Silverchair, "Tomorrow").
The first act closes as Jimmy and Cyndi duet while getting high (Nirvana, "Lithium/Dumb").
The fourth stop on the Alice In Chains tour sees the band playing in San Antonio. Alice In Chains plays while we watch the four remaining band members pantomime what's happening to them (Alice In Chains, "Down In a Hole"): Derrick and Violet are unable to communicate with Jimmy, who only wants to get high with Cyndi. Hideous Princess' first single, meanwhile, has reached number one on the charts. After their song, Alice In Chains signs off with "See you next week in Austin!"
Jeremy, back at home, is undergoing therapy for his issues, and it's not going well. Jimmy, in town for the show, visits to find him despondent and having withdrawn into himself after the man who molested him has been released from prison early. Jeremy resents Jimmy and mocks him (L7, "Fuel My Fire"). Disturbed by his former best friend's downturn, Jimmy visits his old music teacher, Mr. Slater, who can tell right away that Jimmy is now a junkie.
Mr. Slater angrily rebukes Jimmy (Jellyfish, "The Ghost at Number One") who leaves, bitter and determined to put the town behind him ("Backwater" reprise). Jimmy hooks up with Cyndi in a hotel room, and together they shoot up. When they are an hour late for their Austin gig and no one is able to reach them, it causes Alice In Chains to invite another local band to open in their stead, denying Hideous Princess their big homecoming performance.
Derrick tracks them down and furiously berates them for their behavior (Live, "Stage"). Hardsell shows up and delivers the mildest of lectures, making Jimmy and Cyndi promise that they won't be late for a gig again. Derrick is horrified, and tries to tell Jimmy that Hardsell doesn't care about him at all and is only exploiting him for money. Hardsell immediately fires Derrick.
Jimmy, although visibly troubled by this, accepts it along with Derrick's replacement drummer, a perma-fried zombie named Spike - who never speaks or sings a single word.
When Violet gets the news that Derrick has been fired, she finds Jimmy and reveals her concern for what's happening to him, as well as the fact that she has developed feelings for him and desires to leave the life of stardom they've begun as she believes it can only end in destruction. She positions herself as a knight in shining armor, come to rescue Jimmy (The Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man").
Moved, Jimmy promises to give up the drugs, but refuses to quit the band or leave Cyndi. Unable to give up on him, Violet agrees to stay. Jimmy tells Cyndi of his decision to get clean and offers to help. At first she resists, but soon she bursts into tears of gratitude and reveals something Derrick alluded to earlier (in the lyrics of "Stage"): when she was 14, her parents sent her to live with her grandparents when she got pregnant.
Confused and desperate to be accepted back into her family, she got an illegal, back-alley abortion which has left her unable to bear children (PJ Harvey, "Down By the Water"). Her drug addiction and love of music have both resulted directly from this experience.
When Jimmy and Cyndi ask for six weeks off to go into rehabilitation, however, Hardsell becomes furious and demands that they not only complete their final gig with Alice In Chains in Houston, but tells them they'll only have a four-week break before they start on a 40-city tour that will last for eight months.
When Jimmy points out that they don't even have an album recorded yet, Hardsell scoffs and says "What do you think you'll be doing with your four weeks off?" Hardsell browbeats Jimmy and Cyndi into accepting this ("Tomorrow" reprise) and they do, although with serious reservations.
Jimmy and Cyndi try to kick the habit, but find that withdrawals send them into the deep, dark recesses of paranoia and fear as they hallucinate all the other cast members mocking and haranguing them (Beck, "Mutherfucker"). Jeremy's condition, meanwhile, has gotten much worse. He's been arrested for aggravated assault when he attacked the man who molested him with a baseball bat. Now out on bail and awaiting trial, Jeremy has begun to abuse his prescription medication and self-mutilate (Nine Inch Nails, "Hurt").
Mr. Slater contacts Jimmy and begs him to return home and be there for his friend, but in the throes of his withdrawal, Jimmy says he is unable to be of use to anyone. A few days later, Hideous Princess plays their last gig opening to Alice In Chains, and it goes badly ("Touch Me I'm Sick" reprise), since Violet is the only member of the band who isn't either high or in serious withdrawal. Hideous Princess are booed off the stage.
Backstage, Violet sees Cyndi relapse and shoot up again. Worried for Jimmy, she finds him and although she is relieved that he has not relapsed yet, she knows it's only a matter of time and begs once again for Jimmy to leave with her (Radiohead, "High and Dry"). Again, Jimmy refuses, more coldly than before, as he is sick and in a bad mood from withdrawal. Violet packs her things and tries to leave, but realizes she cannot, and tearfully berates herself in the mirror (Radiohead, "Just").
A week later, Hardsell is lecturing the band because they're behind on recording their album when Derrick enters. When Hardsell tries to throw him out, Derrick punches him to the ground. Hardsell leaves, and Derrick reveals why he's there: Jeremy has killed himself (Pearl Jam, "Jeremy").
The news shatters Violet and Jimmy, and they draw together with Derrick for comfort. Seeing this, Cyndi realizes that she has never had a support group of close friends due to her lifestyle, and she leaves the band to go work on herself.
Violet and Jimmy return to their hometown, where together with Derrick they celebrate Jimmy's very bittersweet 16th birthday (Alice In Chains, "No Excuses"). Hardsell reappears and threatens the kids with a lawsuit if they don't get back into the studio, when Mr. Slater appears with Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains. Cantrell reveals that due to being underrepresented by Dystopia Records' own lawyers, the kids can't be held accountable for anything they signed without proper parent/guardian supervision.
Cantrell reveals that he saw what was happening to the band and decided to contact Slater, whom he knows from Slater's roadie days. Slater and Cantrell spoke to a lawyer, and reassure the kids that Dystopia has no legal hold over them and they're free of any obligation to the label. Slater reveals that he has one more surprise for Jimmy: Enter Jimmy's estranged father, Randall "Pink" Floyd.
Randall reveals that he accidentally got his high-school girlfriend Simone pregnant immediately after graduation and, although not ready for fatherhood, he married Simone and vowed to raise Jimmy with her. However, when Jimmy was only three years old, Simone was killed in a car accident.
Broken-hearted and unable to face fatherhood alone, Randall left town, leaving Jimmy in the care of Simone's sister. Randall apologizes profusely, saying that his biggest regret in life is leaving Jimmy. When Randall saw Jimmy on TV, and saw the glazed look in his eyes, he knew he had to return and be a father, helping guide Jimmy through his life.
Jimmy says that although he can't forgive Randall right away, he'll try. Randall says that's as much as he could ask for, and promises to always be there for Jimmy whether he forgives him or not. Jimmy and Randall duet in what is part rejection of Hardsell and the record label, part determination to keep going (Foo Fighters, "I'll Stick Around"). Hardsell leaves, and Randall and Jimmy embrace.
The last portion of the show is in the style of a concert. The lights dim. An announcer informs the audience that after a year of having dropped out of nowhere, Hideous Princess are back together for the first time, having formed an independent label. Opening for Hideous Princess is a special guest, the now-clean Cynthia Orstein, a.k.a. the former Cyndi Orion. She plays a tender, heartfelt ballad describing her experiences accompanied only by piano (Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years").
Once she's done, the lights dim again and Hideous Princess are announced. Jimmy, Derrick, and Violet take the stage along with their new lead guitar player, Mr. Slater. Jimmy addresses the audience and briefly sums up his brush with fame, seeing it now for the toxicity that it was. He briefly describes the independent label he's set up, and vows to the audience to be true to himself and keep playing music that is close to his heart, rather than what anyone else wants to play.
"Here's our newest single. We don't know if any of the radio stations in town will play it, but we hope you like it." The band launches into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to close the show.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.