Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for August 2009
The cast of Naked Boys Singing!
Readers, I come bearing some news that may shock and, in some cases, horrify you: Naked Boys Singing! is still a-swingin' for gay tourists and clueless bachelorette parties off-Broadway. Now sharing a space with the long-running Altar Boyz at New World Stages with just two performances per weekend, NBS! just celebrated its 10th anniversary July 25. No big horns were blown to commemorate the occasion besides the launch of a new website; in fact, one cast member I shamelessly stalked on Fire Island the following week said he wasn't aware of the milestone at all.
Still, having seen the show twice before with two completely different casts, I'm titillated to report that the current crop of trou-droppers is the most attractive and anatomically blessed in years. A warning, though, for fans of diversity: There are no black performers or foreskins on display. And "Window to Window," the token dramatic number about mutual peeping-tommery, is just as painful as ever.
Ron Cephus Jones and Jake O'Connor in Wildflower
If, like me, you can scarcely remember happiness before MTV's The Hills, you already know that Crested Butte, Colo., is the hometown of Mrs. Heidi Montag Pratt. It's also the deceptively serene setting for Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower, a honeysuckle-sweet one-act that's grown on me since ending its brief run at Second Stage Uptown August 8.
In an attempt to escape the past, a woman comes to the small town with her awkward son Randolph, who appears to suffer from a mild form of autism like Asperger's syndrome. The teen befriends fellow outsider Mitchell, a much older black innkeeper and ex-drag queen who distracts himself from cancer by pulling out his old feather boas. Pursued by a local girl desperate to lose her virginity, Randolph attempts to learn the art of seduction from Mitchell, who thankfully rebuffs the confused kid's cringe-worthy advances. But anyone familiar with the literary foreshadowing technique of Chekhov's gun would sense the play's true impending tragedy the moment Randolph begins nurturing an extremely poisonous plant.
Young love is also abloom in Slipping through August 15 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Another messed-up mom takes her troubled son to start a new life in a small town, only in this case it's in Iowa, and her son, a self-mutilating hipster named Eli, is openly gay. The author's note in the program points out that the action takes place in 2006 "at the shore of legalized marriage and Obama," but Eli's high school classmates are refreshingly indifferent when he starts sleeping with the heretofore heterosexual Jake, a shortstop on the baseball team.
Unfortunately, a violent relationship with a closet case back in San Francisco has Eli's guard way up. As Eli and Jake, Seth Numrich and MacLeod Andrews are able and adorable, and audiences can see a whole lot of them here. Intense fights balance equally immature yet extremely realistic seductions ("I'm hard as shit right now," Jake tells Eli), but the twist is that the Iowan jock is the sweetest, sanest character in the show. Also unexpected is the fact that the playwright, Daniel Talbott, is straight and happily married.
Lauren Kennedy, Anneliese Van Der Pol, and Sarah Stiles in Vanities
It was all about girl power in Vanities, a long-running 1976 off-Broadway play (which starred Kathy Bates) about three Texas cheerleaders who grow up and grow apart in the '60s and '70s. A New York revival was inevitable, but playwright Jack Heifner and songwriter David Kirshenbaum decided to turn it into a poppy, candy-colored musical. Originally announced for a Broadway run before producers got skittish due to our "complicated economic time," Vanities, a New Musical, directed by Designing Women 's Judith Ivey, opened July 16 at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre to tepid reviews and closed August 9. The musical's gay content is minimal — one woman admits to a having a few lesbian affairs, and another drops a bomb that her son has fallen in love with a man -- but c'mon, a show about clothes-crazy, hairstyle-changing cheerleaders who sing songs called "Cute Boys in Short Haircuts" and make rainbows for school dances out of colored tissue paper and fishing wire? Bring it on!
Former model and soap star Cusi Cram's A Lifetime Burning, a Primary Stages production at 59E59 Theater A, ignites August 11 and flames out September 5. Kissing Jessica Stein 's Jennifer Westfeldt (a.k.a. Jon Hamm's girlfriend) stars as Emma, an off-her-meds manic-depressive who pens a fictitious memoir. As she defends her literary fabrication of Incan heritage and crackhead relatives to the sister who exposed her as a James Freyian fraud, we witness flashbacks to Emma's true torrid affair with a sexy Latino student.
Director Pam MacKinnon, a frequent Edward Albee interpreter, states in her program notes that the play's a work in progress, and a few extra tweaks might improve some stale, clunky dialogue. But what this drama lacks in polish it makes up for in pizzazz: Emma spends her hefty book advance on fancy new furniture, so the set is enviably gorgeous. Also fab is Emma's deliciously dry book agent, a vision in vintage Chanel played by Isabel Keating, who earned a Tony nod for channeling Judy Garland opposite Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz.
Speaking of burning sensations, the new Broadway season officially began with the August 2 opening of Burn the Floor at the Longacre Theatre. Made up of a live band, a fog machine, a disco ball, a pair of vocalists, and 10 dancing couples from various countries around the world, this evening of competitive ballroom dance (or "dancesport") was choreographed by out Aussie Jason Gilkison and conceived as a special performance for Elton John's 50th birthday celebration in 1997.
Considering its queer genesis, it's a shame there isn't at least one steamy same-sex samba, but I suppose a waltz set to "After All (Love Theme From Chances Are )" is close enough. Crowds craving eye candy of both sexes won't go hungry here, and those sitting in the front rows may even feel beads of sweat flinging off the male dancers' ripped abs, strong shoulders, and impossibly toned legs as they spin, lunge, thrust ... What was I talking about? Oh, right. Dancing.
If you're already suffering from So You Think You Can Dance withdrawal, you can feel the Burn until October 18. Catch it by August 16 and ogle Dancing With the Stars darlings Karina Smirnoff and the oft-shirtless Maksim Chmerkovskiy (pictured left).
For next month's column I'll recount my brave attempt to see as many gay-themed shows in the 13th annual Fringe Festival as humanly possible during the last two weeks of August. Sort of like Julie Powell's Julie/Julia Project, only with fewer carbs and zero chance of a feature film adaptation starring Meryl Streep.