EDITOR’s NOTE: If you saw Golden Days last weekend (Jan. 25, 26) and want to chime in with comments about the musical, feel free. What did you like? What needs to be improved? The show’s creator, Daniel Kermidas, is only in the early stages of writing. Following the Sunday performance, he held an audience talk-back session, so we at BAMirror are sure he would welcome constructive criticism.
By George Basler
Daniel Kermidas has fond memories of his youth in Endicott and of the stories his grandmother told him when he was a young boy.
The 26-year-old Broadway dancer, singer and actor is in the process of turning these memories into a musical. Golden Days, set in Endicott during World War II, premiered this past weekend at the Endicott Performing Arts Center.
Actually the word premiere is a misnomer. The musical is in the early stages of creation, and last weekend’s “premiere” was actually a workshop production of an unfinished work.
Only five songs in the production were Kermidas’ originals. The others, from movies and other musicals, are being used as “place holders” until Kermidas and his collaborator, a fellow Broadway performer, can finish an original score.
“I already know I have to rewrite certain scenes,” Kermidas said. “Whole sections could be cut. It could be re-written.”
Kermidas will have to squeeze this work in between his main career as a Broadway performer. A 2006 Union-Endicott High School graduate, he has toured in the 2009 revival of West Side Story, as well as Memphis: The Musical. He also made it to the top 35 dancers in the television show So You Think You Can Dance! In between gigs, he gives private dance lessons in New York and New Jersey.
He describes Golden Days as “a labor of love” that he began two years ago after the death of his grandmother, Rose Diorio. He compares the tone to that of the classic musical Meet Me in St. Louis, which follows a family living through a year in turn-of-the -century St. Louis.
“I want to explore the time period of 1941-42, and what the town (Endicott) was like in its heyday,” he said. The musical is filled with nostalgic references to the Endicott Johnson shoe company, the old Lyric Theater, Woolworth’s and a bandstand that once stood in the old En Joie Park.
Judging Golden Days at this point is difficult, and probably unfair, since it is still very much a work in progress. Last weekend’s production did not have a professional cast. Many of the performers were high school students, or recent graduates, and their skill levels varied.
That being said, some early observations can be made.
At its core, Golden Days is a love story about a teenage couple, Rose and Luke, who fall in love against the backdrop of World War II.
Luke is immature at the beginning of the show. rebelling against a sometimes abusive father. When his father dies in a factory fire, Luke is forced to grow up. He declares his love and his intentions to Rose, but marriage is put on hold when he and his best friend, Jimmy, enlist in the Army after Pearl Harbor. Jimmy dies in the war; Luke is wounded, but he returns to Rose at the end of the musical.
The love story is sweet, and Alexander Boyce and Khala Hurd, two U-E High students, did good jobs in the roles. Their love song, “The Letter,“ one of Kermidas’ originals, is a strong one. It’s one of the best songs in the show, in my opinion.
But Kermidas’ book is wordy and drawn out. While I didn’t time it with a watch, it takes an awfully long time to get to the first song in the show.
Moreover, the character of the abusive father is underwritten. His motives are unclear, and the relationship between father and son is sketchily developed. Kermidas said he wanted to show the man is attempting to become a better, more loving, father, but that never came across to me. The character could use a strong song expressing his disappointments and frustrations.
The most problematic part of the show, in my opinion, is the appearance of the real-life George F. Johnson as one of the characters. The old industrialist never seems to gel with the rest of the show.
While Johnson undoubtedly was one of the most pivotal figures in Broome County history, the character — as presented in Golden Days — is muddled. He starts as a hard-nosed industrialist fighting unions and morphs into an avuncular uncle who befriends Luke and his mother after the father’s death.
Local residents familiar with Johnson and the EJ legacy probably got a kick out of his appearance, but audiences unfamiliar with Johnson’s story are going to be confused and have a hard time figuring this character out. A second-act scene in which George F. gives Luke some grandfatherly advice is pure corn.
All this is unfortunate because Kermidas has written a spirited and good song, “Which Way E-J?” for the character. Hopefully, Kermidas can figure out this character in rewrites.
The U-E graduate recognizes that creating a finished version of his show will be a long process, and success is far from assured. If Golden Days doesn’t go anywhere beyond a workshop production, so be it, he said in a recent interview.
But a person has to have persistence to be a Broadway performer, Kermidas said. And he has persistence in spades.