by Clark Groome
When “Nerds” first appeared at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2007 it was an entertaining but somewhat unsatisfying look at the relationship between tech gurus Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
“Nerds” is back, revised and ever so much better than it was six years ago. Originally created and subsequently revised by Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner (book and lyrics) and Hal Goldberg (music), the show follows Gates and Jobs from their beginnings in 1975 to today. It is, for the most part, a very funny piece, pun-filled with loads of silly business. It is also a serious look at these two and the competition that at first favored Gates and Microsoft, but Jobs, with his invention of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, was later on top of the techno-heap.
Gates is the quintessential nerd. Jobs, while clearly a nerd, is also an egomaniacal hedonist who wants nothing more than to prove he is the smarter of the two.
The truth is that while they were fighting for prominence in a field that had never before existed, they changed the way people communicate. They did, in fact, change the world.
The new “Nerds” is receiving a stunning production through Dec. 29 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
As good as the cast is — and it’s very good — the real star of the show is designer Lee Savage’s set which is both a tribute to and send-up of every computer screen icon and message we’ve all come to know and, perhaps, hate. Add to that Jason Lyons’ sharply focused lighting and Nevin Steinberg’s clever and often witty sound, and you have one of the finest physical productions I’ve seen on a Philadelphia stage in ages. Thomas Charles Legalley designed the time-appropriate costumes, and Joshua Bergasse choreographed the clever and energetic dancing.
Not only is director Casey Hushion blessed with that sterling design, but she has assembled a cast that captures the intelligence of its characters in a most sensitive way.
Most interesting was Matt Bradley’s breathtaking performance as Steve Jobs. He is at once a cocky and insecure genius. Bradley is a fine actor and singer. As Bill Gates, Stanley Bahorek is a tad blander than perhaps the real Gates is, but he gives a performance that is at once appealing and credible.
The rest of the ensemble — Benny Elledge, Lexy Fridell, Briana Carlson-Goodman, Raymond J. Lee, Alyse Alan Louis, Rob Morrison, Kevin Pariseau, Blake Segal and Catherine Ricafort — is also first-rate.
The story is interestingly told, and the music is appealing, making the new “Nerds” an encouraging remounting for PTC. This is a show that I’d guess would have a significant life after Philadelphia. If it does, I can’t imagine it getting a better production than it’s getting here.
For tickets call 215-985-0420 or visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.