NERDS Comes to Broadway with Story of Steve Jobs & Bill Gates

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If a time traveler, say, one thousand years hence were to dig through the detritus of our civilization in an attempt to piece together the history of the twentieth century, they may be forgiven for thinking there was only one Steve behind the creation of Apple. Steve Jobs has been the main subject of at least seven biographies, three comic books, nine films, one play, and now he’s even getting a musical. This latest, Nerds, is set to open on Broadway with previews at the end of March and an official opening on April 21st. And Steve Wozniak? Well, he’s in there, too. Somewhere.

The musical (which actually premiered in Philadelphia in 2007) is actually about Jobs and Bill Gates, following each as they start off as awkward, nerdy kids all the way to their ascension as two of the most powerful and important voices in the technological world. The book is by Robot Chicken alumni Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner, so it’s safe to say this will not be a particularly reverent treatment. Actually, early reviews have name-checked The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, and even Spamalot. During its inaugural 2007 run, it won local awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Original Music. So there’s plenty of reason to be cautiously optimistic about it.

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image courtesy NERDS Facebook page

Still, as they sing in Gypsy, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” and the production at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre is pulling out all the stops. Word is the new production will feature holograms, projections, and even interactivity for the audience. Yes, there is indeed an app for that. Not much word on what it will do: so far we have only been told it will allow audiences to interact with the set (we’re thinking onstage chat room) and even affect the ending (spoiler alert: they both get immensely rich). How all that shakes out in practice we’ll have to find out in April.

Now, yours truly is, in another life, something of a theater person, and as such I’m always glad to see new and innovative shows (actually, these days just something that isn’t based on a book, movie, or TV show is enough to be grateful for), but you do have to wonder how the two stories can be told at once like that? I keep getting a mental picture of a kind of twisted, alternate-universe version of Love Letters. Okay, probably that’s not too close to the real thing, but it does make for a weirdly compelling mental image.

Also, it may just be me, but I am a bit tired of the all-Jobs-all-the-time approach the popular media seem to have taken since he passed away. Lest we forget: if it weren’t for Wozniak’s elegant and innovative hardware designs, Jobs would have been busy selling a series of stylish and fashionable — but empty — boxes. Likewise with Paul Allen, who was with Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft and actually pulled off the DOS deal that put the company on the map and who, like Wozniak, has spent most of his latter years in philanthropy. Don’t see many films about him.

But let’s be honest, shall we? This is the Sherlock Assholmes era, where genius comes with mandatory attitude. Two brilliant guys with nice personalities beavering away quietly at making the world better does not compelling cinema make. Or, it seems, theater.

In any case, it will be very interesting to see what comes of it. What the heck: it’s got to be better than Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, right?

Nerds starts previews on March 31st. Tickets and additional information are available here.

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