To say that book writer Buddy Farmer and composer Michael Mahler’s newish
biomusical respects its subject, legendary 1920’s Notre Dame football coach
Knute Rockne, would be downplaying the sheer extent to which it venerates
the guy. No doubt his contributions to university athletics and Hoosier
pride at large are worthy of song, but sweet Jesus, this painfully earnest
and often schlocky tribute plays out like the sort of show an autocrat in a
banana republic would commission about himself.

Over the course of two hours plus, Something in the Game
chronicles Rockne’s journey from young, hard-working inspiration to
everyone around him to older, harder-working inspiration to everyone around
him. (“Slow down, don’t be a jerk,” sing his lazy colleagues at the post
office. “Screw that,” sings back a precollege Rockne. “I’m here to work!”)
The stakes aren’t exactly ESPN 30 for 30 material, but there’s
some conflict in the difficulty Rockne (played by Stef Tovar, who
originated the role a decade ago) has managing time between his star
player, George “the Gipper” Gipp (Adrian Aguilar); an unamused university
official (James Rank); and his own neglected wife (Dara Cameron in a
thankless role, though her extraordinary voice elicits goosebumps no matter
the material).

As a product of Northwestern’s American Music Theatre Project, director,
choreographer and lyricist David H. Bell’s production showcases Equity
actors alongside some truly extraordinary Northwestern University student
talent, which is more evident in the few numbers that escape the locker-
and dorm-room boys’ club. In particular, when Mahler’s score moves away
from a gentle Americana-like sound to jazzier numbers at the Jimmy the Goat
nightclub, Something achieves the vitality that in so many other
scenes feels bronzed over.   v