Fred M. Caruso: Divine Inspiration
In The Big Gay Musical, actors Paul and Eddie (Daniel Robinson and Joey Dudding) star as the first same-sex couple in Adam & Steve: Just the Way God Made ’Em!, an off-Broadway tuner that looks at Genesis through lavender-colored lenses. The real gay drama is offstage, where Eddie comes out to his religious parents and Paul ditches dating to whore around. After premiering in July at Philadelphia’s QFest before a brief Provincetown run, The Big Gay Musical opens September 11 in New York City before playing more than 20 LGBT film festivals around the world. First-time screenwriter Fred M. Caruso, who codirected the film with Slutty Summer’s Casper Andreas and penned the songs with NEWSical’s Rick Crom, took a break from writing the second installment of a planned TBGM trilogy to tell us why his movie is so much sexier than Prayers for Bobby.
Advocate.com: What was the genesis for The Big Gay Musical?
Fred M. Caruso: I actually wrote Adam & Steve, the musical within the movie, eight years ago. So many gay people have been screwed up by religion, but gay shows and movies about religion always end up being so depressing. I wanted to create a show with a positive message about being gay and religion that was funny, campy, and crazy.
Did you ever mount Adam & Steve?
I did a reading of it back when I wrote it, but as a commercial theater producer I realized that the show could never make money. It has a cast of 10 people, so it could never really find an audience to sustain it. But now that the movie’s out and can help sell the show, there’s actually talk of mounting Adam & Steve, so we’re looking at the possibilities.
You’ve had success producing off-Broadway shows like NEWSical and I Love You Because. Why did you make the switch to filmmaking?
I was a coproducer of Casper Andreas’s A Four Letter Word and I just fell in love with the medium. It’s actually so much easier and cheaper to make a film than it is to put a show up. You can also reach a bigger audience, because I can sell my DVD forever all over the world instead of trying to fill 400 seats of one theater in one city.
Which gay independent films do you admire?
I really like Trick, but I think Camp is closest to what I was trying to achieve here, just because it’s about musicals, showtunes, and theater stuff. It’s also uplifting and positive, unlike that recent Lifetime movie with Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby, where the kid had to kill himself for his parents to love him.
You do delve into some serious territory by touching on AIDS. It’s rare to see someone getting tested and worrying about his HIV status in a gay film these days, especially in a musical comedy.
At our reading of the film, the one criticism I had is that I bring up AIDS. I was told that there’s no reason to do that anymore. At the same time, I’m still meeting kids in their early 20s who are HIV-positive, so I think we do need to keep talking about it, and we need to keep talking about it a lot. So much porn out there today is unsafe and dangerous. There’s better medication than there was before, but the AIDS crisis is certainly not over. While I was writing the script, a 25-year-old friend of mine found out that he was positive. When he called the people he’d been with in the last six months to let them know they should be tested, he found out that three of them were positive and never even told him.
What kind of response have you gotten to the film so far?
We did a Q&A with some of the cast after the opening in Provincetown, and one of the things I’ve been really happy about is that whenever we’ve done Q&As after screenings, most of the audience actually stays to discuss it, which is so not the norm. A couple of ministers that came to QFest told me how much the film moved them, which is certainly something that I like to hear.
Next to your writing credit on your film’s IMDb.com page it reads “divinely inspired through” in parentheses. What’s that mean?
It’s the credit I gave myself back when I wrote Adam & Steve because I truly believe that the show was as divinely inspired through me as the Bible was.
Are you religious?
I left the Catholic Church when I was 12, much to the horror of my family, just because I didn’t believe in it. I don’t understand how you can justify a lot of their teachings. I still went to Catholic school and I still got confirmed, though, because if I wasn’t confirmed, all hell would’ve broken loose.
Did you have problems coming out to your Catholic parents?
No. My mom actually passed away the morning after my first gay experience, so coming out was very easy for me because I had so much other stuff to deal with. Coming out was the last thing I was going to worry about.
You cast gay comedian and Trick star Steve Hayes as a very effeminate God in Adam & Steve. Are you hoping to piss off Christian right groups for publicity’s sake?
I do want to push the envelope and get people thinking. But Steve Hayes plays God the way that he wanted to play God; I never told him to play God as effeminate. Besides, I see his God as more of a sweet, cuddly teddy bear than anything.
Your actors — including Liz McCartney, Marty Thomas, Andre Ward, Jeff Metzler, Celina Carvajal, and Jim Newman — have performed collectively in nearly 50 Broadway musicals. Why did you fish almost exclusively in the Broadway talent pool to make this film?
I had to find triple threats who could not only act on film but also sing and dance. If you’re going to find that in New York, you have to go to the people working on Broadway, and I was lucky to get some of the best people in the industry.
Obviously, they had to have hot bodies too. What was your audition process like?
We did ask the actors to take their shirts off for the dance call, which made it more fun to watch.
Many of the guys in your cast have danced wearing next to nothing in the annual Broadway Bares burlesque benefits for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but the costumes you put them in are just as skimpy.
Adam & Steve is very sexy, so we made sure the actors knew what the show was about and what the costumes were going to be like. I didn’t want a lot of gratuitous nudity or sex scenes, but if you’re going to have tap-dancing angels in a gay musical? Yeah, they’re going to be in booty shorts and wings.
Doesn’t a gay independent film realistically need skin to succeed?
Well, having a movie that’s sexy is different than having a movie that’s sexual. A lot of gay movies have sex for the sake of having sex and nudity for the sake of nudity. We have a sexy movie with attractive people.
How was working with porn star Brent Corrigan as Paul's Internet escort?
He’s a sweet kid and I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.
Was it important for you to cast openly gay actors in the gay roles?
My rule for this film was that if you’re gay and you’re going to be in this movie, you’re going to be out. Because that’s what the whole movie is all about. I’m not going to be hypocritical and hire closeted gay actors. That said, I had no problem hiring straight actors and I would never out anybody, but I just wouldn’t hire anyone if they weren’t comfortable with who they are.
So was there any hooking up on set?
I don’t want to know about it if there was! It wasn’t much of an issue because most of these guys were going to school during the day and doing eight shows a week, so I don’t think anyone had energy left for sex. I also see my cast as my kids, so I don’t want to know who my kids are having sex with.
I found it refreshing that Paul and Eddie, though they connect while playing Adam and Steve, don’t have sex or wind up together in the end.
I did that because the movie’s about their friendship. They were never supposed to get together, but I did craft it so you would assume they are. I love how they go from having their wonderful scene in the bar and singing a love song together in the musical to each finding someone new.
You show pros and cons involved with both sides of Paul’s struggle between being promiscuous and settling down. How does one maneuver that gay fork in the road?
I want people to take away from the movie that it’s OK to be whoever you are and whoever you choose to be. If you want to be a slut, go be a slut and enjoy yourself, but just be safe. If you want a relationship, have a relationship and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a monogamous relationship in the gay community. Just be happy and love yourself.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the autobiographical elements of the film. With which character do you most identify?
There’s certainly a little bit of me in everyone, to paraphrase a wonderful line from Chicago. I guess the character closest to me would probably be Paul, but no one’s really me. I’ve always been incredibly independent and arrogant, for lack of a better word, and my self-esteem’s never been an issue.
You make a cameo billed in the credits as “Drunk At Bar.” Was that a stretch?
[Laughs] No, that part was written for me. You want to know the character in the movie closest to me? That’s it.