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March 2, 2015

Review: John & Jen

by Jesse North
john jen, kate baldwin, conor ryan

Photo: Carol Rosegg

While musicals have license for unbridled imagination to reach the most extravagant of conceits (and we thank them for that), sometimes they can have the most profound effects when they’re brought down to ground-zero reality. The crushingly intimate John & Jen takes a magnifying glass to the relationship of a brother and sister who grow up (and apart) during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s. The revival of this two-hander by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald is the rare musical that takes the time to examine the relationship between two sole characters, doing so to an impressively deep degree.

A musical for fans of The Last Five Years, John & Jen features a sturdy score with an imaginative framing device for the second act that keeps the narrative sharp. Without scenic bells and whistles or other production flare, stars Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan (Jen and John, respectively) are able to camouflage themselves into these two siblings. So reliant upon one another and at the same time repelled by their differences, John and Jen’s bond is one to which anyone with a family tie can relate. No matter how fiercely you try, you cannot turn someone into something they’re not. We see Jen travel the road of this discovery through the show, and when she comes upon this realization, and the awareness of the life-long ideals she has to let go of, the musical suddenly feels like a story about every one of us.

John & Jen is currently playing at Theatre Row through April 4.

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