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OSTheatre's Livin’ out Loud, a self-titled “CabarGay,” is proof that North Carolina is home to a surplus of undiscovered talent! However, this original, gay-themed musical — tackling a number of topics with a talented cast of four singers and two drag queens — sadly fails to make a real impact.
Petra’s Piano Bar poses the perfect venue for a production of this nature. Its intimate stage with delicate lighting is encompassed by a fleet of round tables, an elegant grand piano, and, most notably, a fully stocked bar. It creates an environment that lends itself to live entertainment without losing warmth or casualness.
Although the space was outfitted perfectly for the drag queen hosts (Joe Nierle and Randy Alexander), their presence added very little, if anything, to the show itself. Throughout the performance, the two engaged in a storyline loosely based on the 1950 film All About Eve (which was very difficult to pick up on). In combination with their deplorable make up and attire, the amount of almost cryptic banter rooted in cinematic nostalgia removed all freshness from the experience. That being said, in the institution of drag expression, there is unquestionably an honorable place for performers that salute classic icons and the glitter of yesteryear, however, in this particular production, the drag routine felt dated and superfluous.
The two acts are richly packed with parody songs that are hilarious and well conceptualized. Joe Nierle’s lyrics coupled with Chris Tilley’s musical arrangement manage to cover the full spectrum Broadway anthology. Derec Knudson shone in the Fiddler on the Roof-inspired “If I Were a Bear Man.” He sang in his beautiful baritone voice, “All day long I’d fiddle’ round with you/ If I were a burly man. Whew!/ I wouldn’t have to look smooth./ Yada Diddle dada do…”
“The Jet Song” from West Side Story got affectionately renamed “The Gay Song,” which opens with, “When you’re a gay you’re a gay all the way/From your first boyhood crush to the man who got away.” Annie even gets a turn in the touching rendition of “My Son’ll Come Out Tomorrow,” in which the very talented Katlynne Pelkey belted out the end with, “Tomorrow, Tomorrow/ I love ya, no sorrow/ You’re always my son who’s gay!”
Sadly, there are pieces that, while are amazingly constructed, appear randomly imposed into the show. Pelkey brilliantly delivered “Nun Puppet Blues” (with actual puppet in hand), which explores a nun’s desire to be in show business. Although very entertaining, the song is neither a parody nor is it gay themed.
The show is clearly packed with a multitude of personality, yet struggles to find its own identity. Is this a parody of classic musical theatre, homage to vintage Hollywood, or a revue tackling the plight of gay individuals? The discourse of these opposing themes weakens the potential potency of an emotional build and generates very little heart.
There seems to be unfortunate resistance to allowing the collective gay psyche to evolve. As a result, the show undermines its own principles. While preaching against alienation and discriminatory exclusiveness, the show caters solely to the niche minority within the gay community that is privy to obscure musical theatre references and Bette Davis quotes.
If the intention of the “CabarGay” is to speak for/to an inclusive community, then there is a grave mistake in assuming that social and political adversities, which are innately unifying, can in some way be quantified with stereotypical premises and generational isms.
The strength of the show, and presumably its foundation, lies in the original, gay-themed selections that depict various perspectives and journeys. It is these songs that allow the singers to characterize their performances in truly relatable ways. Stephen Howard humorously sang “Bye, Bi Love,” which depicts the challenges of being bisexual.
Stephen Hale discussed the predicament of being an aging gay male with the song “Old and Gray.” However, it was Hale’s performance of the very moving “I Love Harvey Fierstein’s Voice” that radiated the true nature of the show’s aim. A few of the lyrics are, “But Harvey had the guts to say/ No more! No, I won’t live this way/ It’s not about your rants and hate/ It’s about me…It’s about us/ That’s why I love Harvey Fierstein’s Voice.”
The climax of the evening, undoubtedly, was the melodic and profound duet “It Took a Riot at Stonewall,” performed by Pelkey and Knudson. The gripping song paints the sacrifices of men and women in the early years of the gay rights movement. The selection put the entire evening into perspective in a way that was educational about the past, yet relevant to the present. Towards the end of the piece, there was a break in music where a recording of President Obama’s second inaugural address was played, in which he references gay equality.
Livin’ out Loud has real moments of brilliance when its socially conscious material stands in the foreground. Regrettably, there are serious missed opportunities to make a substantial statement about a cause that is clearly important to the creative team as well as the audience.
This was a perfect example of a talented cast, collection of innovative songs, and exciting concepts that, without a clear focus, simply did not work as a cohesive production. However, all is not lost. Livin’ out Loud has merit, and once refined, could be the show to look for.