A musical about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates with a supporting cast of characters that includes Steve Wozniak and Paul Allen? Welcome to Nerds. Or N3RDS, as the Philadelphia Theatre Company bills it.
I'll say right off that I enjoyed it, but more important, the audience at the matinee that I attended seemed to enjoy it even more.
Musically, it's an eclectic combination of Broadway and many of the pop music styles of the last 30 years, including rap. It sounds a lot like William Finn, sort of like Falsettos but without the pathos.
The book is filled with lots of in-jokes that will appeal to, well, the nerds who know the history of Apple and Microsoft, but it never loses sight of the broader audience; if you remember what it was like to use a DOS-based computer, you'll get most of the gags.
Bill Gates comes off as a bullied child who tries to get back at the world that mistreated him, especially after he's schooled in the wicked ways of dog-eat-dog business by Tom Watson of IBM. Dum-dum-DUM! Yes, every time anyone utters IBM (Dum-dum-DUM!) three ominous chords are sounded. Gates is also pretty clueless, as when he meets Steve Jobs at the Homebrew Computer Club: "I'd like to stop by your garage sometime and give you a hand, Jobs." (This becomes something of a running gag.)
Steve Jobs, OTOH, is a brilliant but arrogant guy who steals most of his ideas, first from Woz and then from Xerox. He's prone to making predictions like "I see birds on a hand-held device. Why are they so angry?"
Needless to say, this is a cartoonish history of the development of Apple and Microsoft.
The cast is mostly young and enthusiastic. Stanley Bahorek (Bill Gates) and Matt Bradley (Steve Jobs) were fine in the two leading roles, though I especially liked Benny Elledge as Woz (he did extra duty in some of the ensembles as Albert Einstein, etc.).
The production is fittingly very high tech with lots of video screens, projections, and flashing lights.
As to the songs, I think I enjoyed the ensemble opening number ("I Hope I Win") best; it's set in a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club and it effectively prepares the audience for what is to follow. Jobs's "Email to God" is also a winner.
As I said, I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. Judging from their reaction, most of the audience did love it.
My major complaint: the volume, especially during the ensemble rap numbers is way too loud. If you go, take some earplugs. For more information go to Nerds.