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Off-Off-Broadway Review

William and the Tradesmen

The new one-man musical William and the Tradesmen is like a pretty, disingenuous girl begging for 90 minutes to be told she's attractive. Yes, writer-performer-songwriter Eli James, you are talented. And so is your alter ego, William Bray. But it's not much fun spending an evening with a man who complains about his band, his book, his acting career, his improv group, and all the many women he's either banged or is contemplating banging—especially since complaining is also a way to brag about having too many options.

At some point in his life, James must have realized that he does remarkably good impressions of rock icons Joe Strummer, Paul Weller, and Morrissey, because they make appearances as William's imaginary mentors. As James seamlessly switches among three different British accents, his technique is admirable, but he stretches himself thin by adding other characters and running out of voices (director Stephanie Yankwitt allows one female character to sound startlingly like a stereotypical gay man). Likewise, James' songs are catchy and insistent in the moment, but the more he sings his charming but slight takes on contemporary romance, the more his lyrics sound like second-rate Liz Phair.

But James' most notable misstep is creating too many problems for William, even dragging in bullies from school during a protracted dream sequence. By its anticlimactic end, William and the Tradesmen has become an elaborate musical therapy session, as William works through his inferiority complex and endless issues with success and women. Imagining the real Joe Strummer wasting his time with a whiner like this, who becomes furious when a date doesn't like Annie Hall, is impossible, even if William does sometimes write a catchy song.

Presented by Breedingground Productions as part of the Spring Fever Festival
at the Robert Moses Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St., NYC.
May 22June 5. Fri. and Sun., 8:30 p.m.

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