I am faced with an apparent dilemma. I just saw a delightful new musical work and am ready to recommend it to virtually anyone. On the other hand, it is a work-in-progress, I don’t know how it will turn out in the end, or even when (if?) it will be performed again, and friends in the business say it’s unfair to review something in progress anyway. So shoot me; nobody can be fair all the time.
We wandered down to the Under One Roof Theater in Tribeca, a nice little dive that doesn’t quite hold an entire audience. Our plan was to see Most Men Are, a new work by Stephen Dolginoff, who recently won the 1994 Bistro Award in the category of Outstanding Book, Music and Lyrics for his musical One Foot Out The Door (praised by Maryann Lopinto and panned by Andrew Martin in various back issues of CaB). Once inside, grabbing whatever space we could, we were greeted by an almost-bare stage, the only props a table and chairs. The setting – according to our program – a New York City apartment, the time – the present.
The show’s opening number, “You Won’t Die Alone”, introduces us to an attractive young couple, Russ and Scott (Joel Carlton and James Heatherly), the latter of who is about to die. This, he apparently does, quietly and without audience involvement, sometime between the first and second numbers. The balance of the show is sprawled across the weekend of his funeral, with Scott’s stifling father, Jack (Chris Lindstrom), and obnoxious, homophobic brother, Larry (Roger Seyer), dropping in to stay with Russ. To top it off, Larry and Jack haven’t seen or spoken to each other in nine years, and never got along in the first place.
The show’s tension builds between the three living characters, with Larry and Jack doing little to be civil to each other, and then only in deference to Russ’ exhortations to remember why they are there. Russ, for his part, spends an awful lot of time looking to his karma and stars for guidance, much to the consternation of the familial duo. Over drinks, the three fall into a series of vignettes, where each remembers times spent with Scott. Scott, for his part, keeps popping out from behind a black curtain to take part in the memories.
Larry leads us through their childhood together, with Scott idolizing his older brother and never quite understanding why daddy treats the rebellious Larry as non-existent and spoils Scott rotten (something we find out later in Jack’s number “When I Came Home At Night”. Perhaps the funniest number in the show is “Daddy’s Playboy Magazines”, a tribute to a discovery that many of us made in Dad’s lower nightstand drawer. We, and Jack, also get to see what not having his father’s love has meant to Larry in “Melinda”.
For his part, Jack leads us through his fantasy of the perfect son, Scott. We get to see Scott’s coming out, in the song “What If”, a beautifully-performed ballad that, for my two cents, was the best number of the show (the song is reprised later when he lets Russ know he has AIDS). Jack drives Scott towards success that never comes and drives Larry out and into the achievement that he never expected in “You Can Do Anything”.
Russ shows us meeting Scott in a bar, where he performs a seductive, if completely off-the-wall pickup of Scott, and the new couple’s search for the perfect apartment in two numbers “Something Bound To Begin” and “The Perfect Place On Christopher Street”. The seduction song is worthy of writing down the lyrics – just to try out on a slow night next time you’re feeling lonely.
The show ends with two numbers, reliving Scott’s last moments in the hospital through “My Body” and “Urban Legend”, and a post-funeral scene with the entire cast considering “Maybe Next Christmas” as Larry and Jack seem to find a provisional truce.
The music and lyrics are good, at times great, and with no particular sour notes. No doubt there will be some changes to look forward to here and there that will only improve what already works. James Heatherly, playing a moody ghost of a character, is a delight to watch as he bounces from one emotion to the next. His soft, lyrical voice is perfect for ballads, and he can sing one to me any time. Joel Carlton, despite his bold, dark-haired, incredibly blue-eyed looks and powerhouse voice, manages to pull off being a bit of a space cadet rather well. Roger Seyer has captured that special spot in life that is reserved just for homophobic brothers who also happen to love their gay brothers, and still manages to be a defiant brat at the same time. Chris Lindstrom (who looks a lot like the guy who played the dad in the TV show ALF), plays both disappointed and proud daddy impeccably, at the same time.
Is it fair here to point out the negatives? Probably not, for this is a work-in-progress. However, I only have two criticisms of the show, and both are in the staging. First, all four actors need to figure out what to do with themselves when they aren’t “active”. There was a little too much lookign around into space, thumb-twiddling, and looking bored while their co-stars were up performing numbers. The second not is one of volume. The Under One Roof Theater is a small venue, and the singing voices of the four need to be modulated to fit it (or wherever they end up playing). Joel Carlton belted out most of his numbers in a voice that no doubt was heard by folks passing through the nearby Holland Tunnel, while at the other end of the spectrum, Chris Lindstrom, who is operatically trained, was holding his volume back to the point where at times he was drowned out by one of those same cars exiting at the New Jersey end.
The question in this day and age is, do we really need another show about someone dying of AIDS? Probably not, but in truth, this show is more about remembering someone’s life before they were dying of AIDS. And that, is something we all need. Admittedly, the show is uneven, but that’s what a work-in-progress performance is for. It is well-written, well-cast, and, well-destined, in my opinion, to be another hit for Stephen Dolginoff.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!